NASCAR to steal IRL’s biggest star

UPDATE #4 Danica Patrick might one day drive in NASCAR, but she doesn't expect it will be next year.

"I wouldn't say it was that big of a chance (of going) next year, but I'd say it's a fairly larger chance in the future," she said Tuesday from Los Angeles.

Patrick also said her father, T.J., was within his right as her manager to investigate options in NASCAR, which was what he did Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.

But that doesn't mean she will sign with a stock car team once her Indy-car contract with Rahal Letterman Racing of the Indy Racing League expires at season's end.

"It's just good to get a feel from everybody where you stand with them," she said. "I do have some interest in NASCAR and for sure I like new challenges."

T.J. Patrick confirmed interest from several NASCAR and IRL teams and said it's natural that he would steer the options toward NASCAR if possible.

"They're a lot safer, we all know that," he said Tuesday. "I'd be a fool not to want her there and if you were her father you would, too.

"But it's not my decision."

T.J. Patrick said the IRL needs to make sure the 24-year-old driver doesn't leave its series, and it can do that by helping to increase her financial package.

"They should take care of their own," he said. "We all know she's probably the least paid driver in the league. That shouldn't happen."

If that was a negotiating tactic, Danica Patrick's team owner refused to hear it.

"Since probably only 10 percent of the drivers in the IRL are getting paid (a reasonable salary), I'm sure that's not the case," Bobby Rahal said. More at Indy Star

07/11/06 T.J. Patrick, the father of the IndyCar Series driver, sparked headlines by showing up Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway and telling a reporter that he wanted Danica Patrick to go to NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series after her contract with Rahal-Letterman Racing runs out at the end of this season.

But on Tuesday, he told the Indianapolis Star that while that is what he would like to see happen, Danica herself is not keen on the idea.

"I'd be a fool not to want her there, and if you were her father you would, too," T.J. Patrick told the Indianapolis newspaper.

"But it's not my decision … and I don't believe she wants to do (NASCAR). She wants to stay here, she wants to run Indy, she wants to win the Indy 500. That's her goal."

Danica Patrick has not commented. But her father said he spoke to her Monday after the story began to get wide-ranging attention.

"She kind of laughed and said, 'What did you do?'" he said. "It's gotten blown out of proportion so much."

07/11/06 Geoff Smith, president of Roush Racing, said while T.J. Patrick was a guest of the team, no discussions took place in regards to his daughter's racing future. Representatives from some other NASCAR teams — including Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Evernham Motorsports, Robert Yates Racing and Team Red Bull — also said they have yet to speak to the 24-year-old from Roscoe, Ill.

A spokesman for Rahal Letterman Racing said the team had no comment other then to say discussions to extend Patrick's contract — which expires after the season — are ongoing. Neither Danica nor her father could be reached Monday. USA Today

07/10/06 Motorsports veteran writer Ed Hinton appeared on ESPN2’s “Cold Pizza" today and said, "NASCAR is starving for Hispanic audiences in the U.S. and all the way through the Western Hemisphere. Juan Pablo Montoya brings with him an enormous following all up and down the Western Hemisphere. This is an automatic one point bump in NASCAR's TV ratings." As for Danica Patrick coming to NASCAR, Hinton was direct and to the point – "Patrick is the only Rockstar in the poor Indy Racing League. She could join all the other U.S. racing Rockstars in NASCAR." Couple that with the rumor below that the Patricks are talking to NASCAR teams and other IRL teams and are unlikely to renew with Rahal Letterman Racing and you have the makings of an open wheel disaster.

07/10/06 The continued split in open wheel racing in the USA could see the IRL lose its biggest star – Danica Patrick.

Danica Patrick could become the next high-profile driver to defect to NASCAR, right on the heels of Formula One's Juan Pablo Montoya.

"I'm trying to get her [into NASCAR]," said T.J. Patrick, father of the woman who dazzled the auto racing world last year by nearly winning the Indianapolis 500 but has struggled with a mediocre Indy Racing League car ever since.

T.J. Patrick, who manages his daughter's career, was at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday, holding exploratory talks with some Nextel Cup teams and sponsors about the possibility of Patrick leaving the IRL for NASCAR as early as next year.

Her contract with the Rahal-Letterman Racing team expires at the end of this season. Besides NASCAR, the Patricks are negotiating with other IRL teams and appear unlikely to renew with Rahal-Letterman.

Team co-owner Bobby Rahal declined to comment.

Patrick's family is from Roscoe, Ill., but she now lives in Phoenix with her husband. She was not at Sunday's USG Sheetrock 400 NASCAR race. Her father came to Joliet because "we've had some inquiries" from NASCAR teams, he said.

NASCAR scored a coup Sunday when Montoya announced he would leave the glamorous international Formula One tour to drive a Dodge in NASCAR next year. The addition of Patrick, the world's best-known female driver, would add further impetus to NASCAR's surge in popularity.

"There's just so many races," her father said. "That's what scares her more than anything. It's 38 weekends."

But with all the action and money in NASCAR, might the Patricks decide the grind is worth it?

"I don't know if she's coming around to the idea, but all the arrows point this way," T.J. Patrick said.

The Patricks were in the Nextel Cup garage area as guests of the powerful Roush Racing team, which fields Fords for Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Mark Martin. Could anything be read into that?

"Not at this point," T.J. Patrick said. "We're just talking to everybody and seeing what's shaking here."

He also confirmed he had talked with another well-financed team, on the condition that the team's name not be published. An executive with that team confirmed that "exploratory conversations" had taken place and acknowledged the value of Patrick's name recognition and glamorous image to sponsors.

Would converting from open-wheel, single-seat, 1,600-pound IndyCars to full-bodied, 3,400-pound stock cars be too much?

"I don't think she'd have a problem," said her father, a veteran racer.

"You could give her six months or a year in a car and do some testing and learning. She understands the basics." More at Chicago Tribune

[Editor's Note: NASCAR with its deep pockets and major manufacturer support could simply buy up all the big open wheel racing names, and effectively keep open wheel racing under their thumb. And there isn't much they could do about it, especially if Champ Car and the IRL remain split, which at this point appears quite possible. We said long ago that the merger must happen by 2007, not 2008. The sport can't afford to wait another year, by then NASCAR may have cut their jugular vein in a fatal blow… if they are not bleeding profusely already.]

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