Love her, hate her, there are very few people who sit in the middle of the debate about Danica Patrick. She’s probably the most-talked-about driver in either IndyCar or NASCAR. A polarizing figure if there ever was one, mostly due, sorry to say, because of her gender rather than her accomplishments.
Before you say “what accomplishments,” allow some room in your thinking to acknowledge that Patrick is the most successful female driver in IndyCar racing. That alone opened possibilities and dreams to countless little girls and injected some much-needed energy into a sport that was bleeding fans. Need proof? The TV ratings for the 2008 Indy 500 where Patrick was in the second row were the highest they had been in years…or since. That race averaged a 4.6 rating. 2017 averaged a 3.6, the lowest since the race has been televised live.
Not enough you say? She led 19 laps at the Indy 500 as a rookie, which helped her win the 2005 Rookie of the Year title in IndyCar. And she’s the only woman to have won an IndyCar race. The sport is littered with countless drivers who have accomplished neither but suffer far less scrutiny.
Officials at Indianapolis Motor Speedway clearly see the upside of Patrick racing one more time. They were quick to tweet out a welcome back shortly after her announcement.
The benefit is obvious. Patrick’s return to Indianapolis will get attention for weeks, maybe months, leading up to the race. If they’re smart, race officials will capitalize on two of the sport’s biggest stars returning for one final race – Patrick and Helio Castroneves. Castroneves himself couldn’t resist jumping into the Patrick announcement when it was known they’d face each other again.
The Indianapolis 500 is as much spectacle as it is racing. It’s a place to go and be seen, to attend and maybe catch the race. That’s why even though TV ratings are down, ticket sales are up year over year. People want to say they went to the classic American race. With Patrick in the lineup of the sport that made her famous one final time, race officials will finally get that sweet spot in both TV and tickets. That’s the drawing power Patrick holds and there’s very little debate about that.