Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Danica reaches fork in road of her career

By Jay Hart, Yahoo! Sports May 25, 10:52 am EDT

There are two Danica Patricks – Danica the Racer and Danica the Brand.

If the future were up to Danica the Racer, chances are she’d stay right where she is, racing in IndyCar and focusing all her energy on the thing that matters most to her as a competitor: winning the Indianapolis 500.

But Danica the Brand says go south, young lady, to the land of NASCAR and those extra zeros before the decimal point.
Danica Patrick watches her team prepare her car prior to the 2010 Indianapolis 500.
Getty Images

One is the angel whispering in her ear, telling her to chase her childhood dream, the other the devil explaining that dreams don’t pay for a cushy retirement.

Not surprisingly, the devil appears to be on the verge of winning the argument.

According to an ESPN report, plans are in the works for Danica to take her talent full-time to NASCAR beginning in 2012. The timing makes sense considering her contracts in both IndyCar (with Andretti Autosport) and NASCAR (with JR Motorsports) expire at the end of this year. There’s also her shelf life to think about. Undoubtedly, IMG, the giant sports marketing firm that represents Patrick, has made it known that the clock is ticking on her ability to command top dollar from potential sponsors.

“I suppose anything is possible,” Patrick said just last week when asked about her future plans. “But I know for me, I haven’t made any of those decisions yet.”

Danica’s decision isn’t so different than the one LeBron James faced a year ago. (Note: We’re talking about the decision itself, not The Decision.) Both are/were making lots of money playing for small-market teams which aren’t/couldn’t provide the endorsement riches which others can/could. But that’s where the similarities end.

By comparison, LeBron’s decision was easy. Wherever he wound up, he’d still be playing the same game and competing at the same all-star level. He knew long before signing with Miami that the moment he arrived in South Beach, the Heat would instantly be installed as title contenders. In other words, whatever decision he made wouldn’t mean compromising his dream of winning a championship.

What’s Danica facing?

If she stays in IndyCar, it’s knowing that she’ll have passed on a financial opportunity she’ll likely never get again, one that could set her and her family up for a long, long time. If she goes to NASCAR, it’s facing a learning curve so steep that failure is a very likely outcome. It also means giving up on that dream of winning the Indy 500, and that’s a void no amount of money can fill.

While it’s nice to have options, it would be nicer if there wasn’t a downside to both of them.

As it stands, there’s only one way to satisfy both Danicas – that’s win the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

“So many people have that story as to how they could have maybe won the Indy 500, which is for me the ultimate goal,” she said.

But considering she and her team have struggled to find speed all month and that she nearly didn’t qualify for the race, that’s not likely to happen.

So when her decision is finally made, sans cameras and Jim Gray of course, and she leaves IndyCar for NASCAR, it will be with more than just a tinge of reluctance. While we shouldn’t feel sorry for her, we should understand.

Never in those dreams growing up it did Danica ever consider her “brand.” But she has to now. That’s life. It complicates things.

It’s a heck of a quandary when not even a crystal ball can provide you with a clear choice.

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