IndyCar must make sure it keeps Danica Love her or hate her, the bottom line remains that Danica Patrick is the only Izod IndyCar Series driver who can move the needle. Some see her as a wonderful novelty and others see her as a you-know-what on wheels.
But at least they see her.
Which is why in this, the last year of her contract with Andretti Autosport, the series absolutely, positively, imperatively needs to keep Patrick.
On a list of a thousand things IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard needs to do in the coming years, finding a way to retain Patrick for his series and this race should be top priority.
If this is, in fact, her Indy 500 farewell -- this is her seventh time here -- that's bad news for a series that's looking for traction with the silent majority of marginal race fans in this country.
Thursday morning, I asked Patrick this question: "Is there any chance this is your last 500, or do you expect to be back?"
Her answer was a giant non-answer.
But, then, she doesn't really have a handle on her future these days. It's her last year with Andretti. It's her last year with JR Motorsports on the NASCAR side. By her own admission, she's at a career crossroads.
"I suppose anything is possible," she said. "But I know for me, I haven't made any of those decisions yet. This is a special event in and of itself. Indy is my favorite race in the world, every everything . . ."
Big picture, IndyCar needs her far more than NASCAR needs her. And if this is all about winning and not just money and marketing, she needs IndyCar far more than she needs NASCAR.
Somehow, Bernard needs to keep her in the fold. He's got to twist arms. He's got to make things happen. Because even when she's not on the podium, she's still the one driver who demands attention from the non-gearhead population.
I can already hear the hard-core race fans and race media grousing:
Well, what about Marco Andretti? How about Graham Rahal? They're big names. They're good-looking, articulate and they're Americans. And what has Danica done since she grabbed the Indy 500 lead in 2005 and won that race in Motegi, Japan, in 2008?
Now let me ask a question: How many races have Rahal and Andretti won in IndyCar? The answer is one each, just like Patrick.
Right now, those two young men simply don't make an impact. They are big, familiar names and nothing more, at least not yet. They don't make ordinary fans feel anything.
On the very rare occasion when Sports Illustrated has put an IndyCar driver on its cover, it has gone with Patrick. Not Helio Castroneves. Not Will Power. Not Andretti or Rahal. [Sex sells] Indy Star