Danica Double an intriguing possibility
CONCORD, N.C. -- Danica Patrick wants to compete in her eighth Indianapolis 500. Her Sprint Cup team owner, Tony Stewart, said before the season he hoped Patrick would be ready to ascend from the Nationwide Series to Sprint Cup full time in 2013.
With Patrick unlikely to skip a Cup race as a full-time driver, especially NASCAR's Coca-Cola-sponsored Memorial Day event and especially after recently joining the brand's line of endorsers, there is now the highly intriguing possibility of one of sports' most recognizable figures resurrecting the fabled but fallow Indianapolis-Concord "double."
Charlotte Motor Speedway president Marcus Smith wants to do his part, as do many in motorsports.
"That's a big deal," he said of Patrick's aspirations. "She's a competitor. She's hungry and she wants to race. I think that's another piece of the story here, just for her to say that is a big deal. I don't think she'd say it if she didn't mean it.
"Man, if she wanted to do that I definitely would love to help any way we could. We would spring for the helicopter ride to get her from the airplane to the speedway."
Only three drivers have required the helicopter ride: former IndyCar champion Stewart in 1999 and 2001, John Andretti in 1994 and Robby Gordon five times. Stewart is the only one to complete all 1,100 miles in the weekend, in 2001. Patrick has a better Indianapolis 500 finish (third in 2009) than Andretti, Gordon or Stewart.
"It didn't work out this year, but it doesn't mean I'm going to give up," Patrick said of racing again in the Indianapolis 500.
Stewart said he would support Patrick if she wanted to attempt both races.
"Absolutely. She's more than welcome to do it," he said. "I'm sure it would be big."
Patrick's agent, Mark Dyer, said he is "developing plans" for a possible double bid, "whether it happens next year or not." Though the pursuit would be highly documented and likely garner mainstream attention, it would not be attempted simply for publicity, he said.
"For a female to do it for the first time, and for someone of Danica's celebrity, it would be a human interest story that truly would transcend racing," he said. "I think it would bring a lot of attention to both races, because here's this 5-foot-2, 100-pound girl taking this on to try and run 1,100 miles in one day.
"So, yeah, I think about that. I haven't talked much to her about it because she's bitten off a lot this weekend and a lot this month, but we have thought about it and we are thinking about it. We want it to be well-planned, and we want it to be fun. But if you're going to do it, there's only one reason to do it, to win the Indianapolis 500."
Bruton Smith, head of Speedway Motorsports Inc., the company that owns Charlotte Motor Speedway, has a penchant for big: a big video board at CMS, a big traffic jam outside Kentucky Speedway last year, big hype in 2010 when he suggested a "huge bonus, like maybe $20 million" for someone who could win both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indianapolis 500. Smith told SpeedTV.com in 2010 that he had "talked to Indianapolis, and they would start their race at 11 o'clock ... we'd have a jet waiting for the drivers. They'd land right here. We'd helicopter them [to the track], and they'd have ample time before they had to get in their car to win the 600. So, we have five or six drivers that could accomplish [winning both events on the same day]."
None took up the offer. Indianapolis Motor Speedway changed its start time from 1 p.m. to noon last May, however. The start time, the qualifying format, television considerations and the adoption of daylight saving time in Indiana played roles in complicating the double attempt after 2004. The Indy 500 was held at 11 a.m. from 1946 to 2004 before it was moved to noon in 2005 and and then 1 p.m. in 2006. The Coca-Cola 600 was moved to the evening on the same date as the Indianapolis 500 in 1993.
"If something needs to get shifted a few minutes to get it done, I don't think it's that big of a deal. But I haven't looked at the logistics of it," Marcus Smith said. "I'm guessing it's probably fine the way it is."
Qualifying would be an issue, as IndyCar's traditional Pole Day and Bump Day are held on the weekend preceding the race, coinciding with the Sprint Cup All-Star race. Stewart arrived at IMS on Bump Day 2004 and nearly attempted to qualify a car for mentor A.J. Foyt before rain and sponsor concerns scuttled the late-conceived plan.
Chevrolet, which provides engines for Patrick's NASCAR programs and rejoined IndyCar this season, supports the idea of a double renaissance and the series working to make it happen, said Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president for Chevrolet performance vehicles and motorsports.
"We certainly spend a lot of time with both sanctioning bodies. We respect them both. Definitely we would like to see them consider it," he said. "But in the end, they're going to have to make a call whether it makes business sense for the series. Because in the end, we want to see both series drive great attendance at the race and great ratings. That is first and foremost. If we can get the timing right ... so that a driver can do both, it would be a nice benefit."
IndyCar, though still the subordinate national series in terms of popularity, is not eager to rekindle the practice as a prefabricated publicity grab, said CEO Randy Bernard. The series has tried to entice NASCAR drivers to run the Indianapolis 500 before and offered a $5 million bounty last year for a victory by a non-IndyCar driver in the season finale at Las Vegas. No outside drivers took up the challenge. Bernard said IndyCar was "looking for more storylines" then but has enough of its own this season.
"I don't want to set out to do something that's never going to come together," Bernard said. "If someone came to us and said they want to do it, then that would be the first step."
Bernard said five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Sprint Cup driver Kasey Kahne and action sports star and NASCAR convert Travis Pastrana were "serious contenders" to race at Las Vegas last year. Rally driver Tanner Foust reportedly also was pursuing a ride there until he lost sponsorship. Bernard believes Patrick would do well in the double even though his series introduced a new Dallara chassis this season after she embarked on her full-time Nationwide Series campaign.
"You know Danica is going to be competitive," Bernard said. "I don't think the new car is that much of a change. Give her enough practice, and I think she'd be very good in this car, too. Pastrana breaks his leg, Jimmie decided after he had his baby it wasn't something he wanted to pursue any longer, and Kasey Kahne, I don't think his owner wanted him getting in an IndyCar. If we had someone of that stature come back, we would damned sure entertain it. I think it would be awesome, and I think it's something that's just really difficult to be able pull off.
"I'm not saying we wouldn't do it. It would take the right contender to come that's excited doing it."
With a free helicopter ride already on the table, who wouldn't be excited?