Dissecting Danica’s comments on street racing

I’ve noticed a lot of heat surrounding comments made by Danica Patrick yesterday down in St. Petersburg. The IZOD IndyCar Series star and part-time NASCAR Nationwide Series competitor expressed her displeasure at the amount of street racing that the series currently has, saying that they aren’t the best tracks for the IndyCars to “display excitement for the fans.”

Her comments, as reported by the St. Petersburg Times, also touched on the lack of manufacturers in the sport and how it’s become very difficult to be faster than another competitor since everyone’s got the same stuff. But it seems that Patrick’s view on the rise of street events in recent years has gotten people’s dander up, and it definitely looks she’s advocating for more oval events as well.

“At the end of the day if people stop watching us, then no sponsors are going to go on the cars and there’ll be no cars to go around the track,” Patrick said, as reported by the Times’ Greg Auman yesterday.

As of now, five of the series’ nine road races are held on temporary circuits — Sao Paulo, St. Pete, Long Beach, Toronto, and the airport race at Edmonton. There’s also the potential for a sixth street fight in 2011, as Baltimore, Maryland has made some major headway in recent months as far as nailing down an IRL event for next summer.

Patrick makes a decent argument, regardless of what people may think of her and her motives. There’s a vibe from the fanbase that makes one believe that a 50-50 schedule would be easier to swallow if the bulk of the road races were on natural terrain courses like Watkins Glen or Sonoma (or better yet, Road America). Despite the good action that Sao Paulo and St. Pete have shown to produce, as well as the historical legacies that go with Long Beach and Toronto, there seems to be a majority apathy/animus toward courses with manhole covers — if the racing is good, people tolerate it; if it’s bad, it’s a crime against nature. Keep in mind that Patrick doesn’t appear to hate street courses that promote overtaking, like Sao Paulo.

However, it must also be said that if anyone besides Patrick said this stuff, chances are they’d be heroes to the base. Considering that Patrick is racing in NASCAR (a primarily oval-driven form of motorsport) and that she hasn’t always been great on road and street circuits, many are wondering if she’s saying these things because she wants what’s best for the IZOD IndyCar Series or because she wants what’s best for herself. She’s opened herself up for criticism and the anti-Danica brigade is firing away.

The truth may be somewhere in the middle. Common sense denotes that while a driver may say that they want a diverse schedule of tracks (and that he or she means it, as well), he or she wouldn’t be averse to a schedule that played more to his or her strength. At this point of her IndyCar career, Patrick’s strength has shown to be on the speedways. On the other hand, you can argue that Patrick seems to be making observations of the fans in both NASCAR and IndyCar, and she may have come to the conclusion that there’s simply a bigger potential for the latter series to gain more followers with oval events.

The IRL’s been trying to become a break-even operation, so the shift to more street events was probably inevitable. But it remains to be seen whether the fans have taken that shift in stride. Street racing can be so hit-or-miss; it can be a great festival for fans, but the main attraction could be complete garbage — or vice-versa.

Perhaps that’s what Patrick was trying to put across in her comments yesterday. What do you think? Did Patrick had the IndyCars’ best interests in mind or do you think she was thinking more of herself?