It started out so well for her. She was fast at Indy. She was also quick at many other tracks. Records were set for women in auto racing with her podium finishes. She was the sport's most popular driver. If you said "IndyCar" to anyone her name instantly came up in conversation. It was as if she could do no wrong.
Then she tried stock cars. After her stock car career didn't work out she drifted back into IndyCar racing where it just wasn't the same. Meanwhile another young woman started to upstage her and became the main attraction. She was no longer the most popular driver amongst the fans and it was as if IndyCar racing had passed her by....
To one driver it does. To another it better.
When I read this article shortly after Sarah's retirement I couldn't help but think Danica Patrick is starting to go down the same path that Sarah Fisher did just a handful of years ago. Sure, Danica has the best racing teams, equipment, an IndyCar victory and now also competes in the Nationwide Series (Sarah did not), but it's as if the same script is being read all over again. Danica's short stock car racing career hasn't been good and her IndyCar racing career seems to have suffered a bit. She did have a good finish to the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season, but overall this was her worst season since her early days with Rahal-Letterman Racing.
Now, no way am I saying that she should quit racing stock cars all together. I kind of like her switching back and forth racing in as many races as she wants to (yes, I know this is a sponsor-driven gimmick... sadly). AJ Foyt made a living racing (and winning) in anything with four wheels. The last time we saw a driver go back and forth between IndyCars and stock cars was Tony Stewart (until the 800-pound gorilla got the best of him and he hasn't returned to IndyCar since). What I'm saying is that Sarah left IndyCars behind and went on to start a full-time stock car career... and when it didn't work out her racing career basically ended because of it. Danica should be taking notes.
Just before Sarah left IndyCar racing the CART teams were invading the IRL, yet the IRL teams were still winning races AND championships. When she came back the CART teams' total dominance of the IRL and its oval races were complete, there were now road course races on the schedule and, of course... Danicamania.
In 2009, Danica was the highest finishing American in the IndyCar Series championship and the only woman racing full time. After her brief stint in stock cars during the winter of 2010 and her return to IndyCar for the 2010 season she was no longer alone. For the first time in her professional racing career Danica Patrick now had a full-time rival that was also a woman.
Danica may take the plunge into the world of NASCAR full time in 2012 (she can opt-out of her IndyCar deal after the 2011 season). In 2012, IndyCar will undergo the most significant car change its seen since the CART/IRL split of 1996 when underpowered Dallara/G-Force chassis' (dubbed "Crapwagons" by CART fans) replaced the 900+ HP 240 MPH turbocharged monsters at Indianapolis. Should she ever have to return to IndyCar racing (should her stock car racing career should go bust like Sarah's) it's very possible the sport would've passed her by too with more powerful cars and possibly more women racing full time with greater talent and accomplishments taking what was her spotlight.
Being an IndyCar driver and part-time stock car driver is okay. I have no problem with it overall, nor should many fans... even if it's mostly sponsor-driven. But making the jump to go full time and leaving Indy behind has its consequences.
Just ask Sarah.