On Monday, Danica Patrick announced that she would run the Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 on May 27 instead of the Izod IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 in 2012.
As Patrick has transitioned over to the stock car world -- 2012 will be her first full season in NASCAR -- the door to Indy has always publicly been left open a smidge. It's a race that she, like her car owner Tony Stewart, grew up dreaming about, and a race that she's participated in the last seven years -- and been pretty damn good too. In those seven races, she's only finished outside the top 10 once, and that was because of a crash on pit road.
And that door still may be open in the future. But Patrick shut it for the present on Monday, a smart decision for her NASCAR career.
Since she dipped her toes into the stock car waters in 2010, her full-time transition to the full-bodied machines has seemed inevitable, an inevitability that was a reality as early as January 2011, as Michael Andretti told Brant James last week that Patrick informed him of her departure -- per her contract -- at the beginning of last year.
That gave Andretti a full year to find Patrick's replacement. And gave the Coca-Cola 600 more short-term relevance to Patrick than Indy did. Sure, Danica could have attempted the 500-600 double like Stewart did in his rookie year in 1999 and in 2001, but with limited seat time in a stock car, it likely would be an exercise in futility this year. (Not to mention logistics with Patrick likely driving a car in the Coca-Cola 600 that will need to qualify on owner's points unless an arrangement is worked out.)
"I hope to do it in the future, the Indy 500 that is," Patrick said. "Maybe it'll be a double."
When she makes her Sprint Cup debut at Daytona next month, the Sprint Cup car will be the third type of stock car that Patrick has driven in NASCAR in only her 26th race. We've seen drivers with eight times the amount of races talk about the stark differences in cars between the new and the old and the Sprint Cup and the Nationwide Series. Imagine finding a sense of predictability with that variety. (Not to mention that the Cup Series will have a new car in 2013, when Patrick moves full-time into the Series.)
Plus, the IndyCar Series is transitioning to a new chassis and engine package for 2013, a car that's significantly different from the Honda powered Dallaras that Patrick has driven the past five seasons. Jumping in a car to practice and qualify for the Indianapolis 500 wouldn't be like putting on an old pair of sneakers, it'd be like breaking in a pair of cowboy boots without the benefit of trying them on.
And we haven't even talked about the logistics of running both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series and the 500.
Practice begins Monday, May 14 for the Indianapolis 500. On May 11 and 12, Patrick will be participating in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races at Darlington. (How about that for a transition?) Pole Day is May 19, the same day as the Sprint All-Star race, a race that Patrick could participate in by winning the fan vote -- not a completely farfetched proposition. The Nationwide Series races at Iowa the next day, May 20, which is also Bump Day.
While it might have been fun to see Patrick drop in at Indianapolis to run the 500, 2012 is all about preparation for that full-time Cup move in 2013. A move that wouldn't be helped by running the Indianapolis 500.