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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- So, Danica Patrick thinks she can leave the IndyCar Series, switch to NASCAR and become an instant sensation, racking up millions in sponsorship and endorsement opportunities and race off into the sunset.
Perhaps if she talked to fellow IndyCar driver Sarah Fisher, Patrick would hear a sarcastic: "Good luck with that."
Fisher thought she was perfectly suited to make the switch to stock cars when she left IndyCar in 2004 to join Richard Childress Racing's development program. In many ways, Fisher was much better prepared to adapt to stock cars because she was successful at driving the front-engine midget and sprint cars in the United States Auto Club (USAC).
The only front-engine cars Patrick drives are the ones she drives around the streets of Scottsdale, Ariz., where she lives. Her professional racing career has been exclusively in rear-engine cars.
Fisher made her move to NASCAR at a time when the economy was flourishing and NASCAR teams could take an open-wheel driver to build a program around. But even with so much working in her favor, Fisher's NASCAR try was ill-fated and ill-timed. She languished in the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series, and never got so much as a whiff of a Nationwide (then Busch) Series. She was out of racing by 2006.
And despite Patrick's personality, the same could happen to her because NASCAR is no longer the "Land of "Oz" to a race driver. That's especially true for someone like Patrick, who probably wouldn't want to spend time in ARCA, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series or Nationwide Series before moving up to Sprint Cup.
"To go and drive one of those cars, you can't just jump in the Cup world," Fisher said Sunday before starting her first IndyCar Series race of the season at Kansas Speedway. "It's a completely different technique of driving and is very similar to sprints and midgets. What I was doing by running the West Series into the Busch Series and then the Sprint Cup Series was the right track. It's unfortunate because the money is not there to grow someone and invest in a driver.
Fisher and Patrick have no relationship, whatsoever. In fact, Patrick tries to distance herself from the other two female drivers in IndyCar (Milka Duno being the third) because she approaches her sport as wanting to beat everyone, not just further the female cause in racing.
By making it appear she is open to NASCAR opportunities, Patrick may be using a shrewd negotiating tactic to improve her market value with current IndyCar Series team Andretti Green Racing. Of course, the dollar signs at NASCAR are still quite a draw.
That's where Fisher advises: Be careful what you wish for.
"It's a very tough world; it's a 'Good Old Boys' world, a 'Good Old Boys' network," Fisher said. "To be in that without any prior experience [in a car] will be extremely tough. Unless you are bringing in a pot load of money, I don't think they are going to [give you a deal] right away."
Some NASCAR teams may think Patrick can bring a sponsor to their team, which would be one reason why they might take a chance on a media sensation. One thing NASCAR lacks is a big-time female name, and Patrick would certainly fill that void. But if more talented drivers such as Dario Franchitti couldn't make it work in NASCAR, and three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish, Jr. continues to struggle in his second NASCAR season, Patrick's Sprint Cup outlook isn't great.
"I feel bad for that guy [Hornish]," Fisher said. "I know how Sam can drive. He is one hell of a driver and I respect him greatly. That is a classic example of how you can't just jump in one of those cars and expect to run up front. It's a completely different style of driving. And if you didn't grow up driving something similar to that, then you are really behind the eight-ball."
Fisher's problem was the sponsorship money would only fund a ride once she got to the top tiers of NASCAR. She foundered financially at the grass-roots level of stock car racing and lived with her then-boyfriend in an RV in a California parking lot.
"We were living in a bus," she said. "But we had to try. That was something we thought we would be successful with and [we weren't]. At the heart of RCR, every part of that program was meant to be better than it was. I know that part of it is checked off. Would I revisit it? Probably not."
Stanton Barrett knows how tough it is in NASCAR because he's been competing in various stock car divisions since the mid-1990s. Barrett is unique because he actually jumped from NASCAR to IndyCar and has so far been decent on the race track. He finished 17th out of 22 cars in Sunday's Road Runner Turbo Indy 300.
Barrett, a Hollywood stuntman by trade, cautions Patrick to make sure a jump to NASCAR doesn't turn out to be a real stunt.
"It's more of what you do risk if it doesn't work out," Barrett said. "It depends on what team you deal with. It's always wise to run some just to get the experience in those cars. Nobody has made a real easy transition over there. Tony Stewart was able to do it in the late 1990s, but he ran Nationwide for a whole year-and-a-half before moving up to Cup. It's a big playing field over there, but with the economy being so tough, if you are having a lot of success here and you are a big-time driver, I'd stay put."
For now, Patrick is exploring the possibilities, but she may be better off being the proverbial big fish in a small pond than getting devoured by the sharks in NASCAR.