To the surprise of absolutely no one, Danica Patrick on Thursday confirmed the rumors that have been flying all season. She will run a full NASCAR Nationwide series schedule in 2012, leaving IndyCar to race a Chevrolet stock car for Junior Motorsports. GoDaddy.com will sponsor both her Nationwide car and a Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy for a few Sprint Cup races.
Although not the first female in Indy cars (she was preceded by Janet Guthrie, Lynn St. James, and Sarah Fisher), Patrick has been the most successful female driver in a major motorsports series.
She has garnered more than her share of press, to the point that her teammates and other drivers registered complaints a few years ago.
Dan Wheldon wore a T-shirt with the logo "I Actually WON the Indy 500" to an autograph session in 2005 as a tongue in cheek commentary on her popularity.
And although her record is impressive (one win, three poles, 20 top-five finishes, and a series record 46 consecutive "running at the finish" performances), a male driver with a similar record would not garner anywhere near the media attention. However, that is more the media's fault than hers.
Patrick's move to NASCAR may suit her driving style better. Although she came from a road racing background (karts, Formula Ford, Barber Dodge, Formula Atlantic), she has performed much better on ovals in the IndyCar series.
And her NASCAR Nationwide performance this season is a quantum leap from last year's finishes. She led at Daytona, finished in the top 5 at Las Vegas, and has shown that she can run in the draft and rub fenders with the best of them. Her Nationwide series owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. praised her dedication, work ethic, and talent.
Will she ever achieve the success of a Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, or even Kyle Busch?
Probably not, but she will run competitively and bring some much-needed buzz and perhaps new fans to NASCAR's second-tier series. She might even fill a few vacant seats in the grandstand and raise the TV ratings a few tenths of a point.
The IndyCar series may be losing Danica, but unfortunately Brian Barnhart is still with them.
His controversial decision at the end of the New Hampshire race was upheld this week, with Ryan Hunter-Reay's victory confirmed.
Will Power also was fined $30,000 or "community service" for giving Barnhart the double Italian racing salute on national TV.
I figure if every fan that doesn't like Barnhart sends Power a dollar, he can pay the fine and have money left over to contribute to the charity of his choice.
The IndyCars are at my old home track, Infineon Raceway, this weekend. One wonders just what fresh havoc Barnhart will wreak on the competitors on Sunday.
His idiotic "blocking" rule that prevents the lead car from taking the preferred line into a corner is likely to cause some consternation at the twisty road course, just as it did in Toronto earlier this season.
I sincerely hope that recent events will cause a complete rewrite of the IndyCar rule book for next season and a new chief steward to go along with the new car design.
By the way, GoDaddy.com is expected to make an announcement this weekend about their continued sponsorship of Andretti Autosport for 2012.
NASCAR is at Bristol this weekend, with the Nationwide series racing last night and Sprint Cup under the lights tonight. Hurricane Irene is expected to pass far to the east, so rain and wind will not affect the racing.
Not so for the Formula 1 activities at Spa Franchorchamps in Belgium. Friday's practice saw heavy rain, and more is expected for this morning's qualifying. Race day is predicted to be dry, but at Spa anything can happen. It will be interesting to see if the Red Bull team is back on track, after being derailed by McLaren and Ferrari in recent races.
And if you want to see some future racing stars in action, Reno-Fernley Raceway's 3/8 mile clay oval is hosting a NASCAR points race for five divisions tonight beginning at 6 p.m.