Jul 28, 2013; Speedway, IN, USA; (Editors Note: multiple exposure was used in the creation of this image) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick drives through turn one during the Samuel Deeds 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The NASCAR Open Wheel Experiment - Failure Is The Verdict

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The other day I stopped and contemplated about how many open wheel drivers from the Indy Racing League, ChampCar, CART, Formula 1 and IndyCar drivers have tried to make the jump to NASCAR in the last twenty years.  Previous to this era some greats ran races in both series and have had the ultimate  success.  Mario Andretti and AJ Foyt won the Daytona 500 in 1967 and 1972 respectively.  Those drivers aside I argue little to no impact has been made with drivers attempting to make the crossover.  The NASCAR open wheel experiment has been a huge failure.

Let’s face it, the driving styles are different because the cars are totally different.  NASCAR vehicles are approximately 3000 pounds with 750 horsepower.  Their steering is difficult to put it politely.  Listening to scanners at the track, drivers are always complaining of a tight (a race car that won’t turn) or loose (a race car that is turning too much) but rarely if ever do they say their car is neutral (a race car that is steering perfectly).  Conversely an Indy car is approximately half the weight of a NASCAR car.  F1 cars are even lighter than Indy type cars.  Those cars also accelerate a lot faster, have higher top speeds and on the opposite side of the spectrum, decelerate or brake a lot better than stock cars.  They turn a lot easier too.  To use some racing lingo less “wheel” has to be put into these cars to make them turn.  Jeff Gordon drove a BMW Williams F1 car in Indianapolis in 2004 and was amazed at the huge differences between F1 cars and stock cars touching on all of these factors.

The only successful driver to make the jump in the past twenty years has been Tony Stewart.  Seeing his success by becoming a multiple time series champion, other owners attempted to emulate Joe Gibbs by bringing open-wheeled drivers into the stock racing scene hoping to have the same success.  Names like John Andretti, AJ Allmendinger, Danica Patrick, Juan Pablo Montoya, Robby Gordon, Casey Mears, Jacques Villeneuve all have tried and were/are less than successful.  I believe that due to the configurations of the each of the cars, the ones you grow up racing consistently are the ones you will be successful in.  Seat time is key in either series.  These folks have all torn up a lot of sheet metal in the NASCAR series.

With my conclusion I don’t believe we as a NASCAR community should be so hard on Danica Patrick.  She is no more or less successful than most other open-wheeled drivers making the jump to the world of stock cars.  Mediocre at best with the occasional flash of a win on a road course like Montoya or Robby Gordon.

Michael Eliadis is a contributor at beyondtheflag.com on the FanSided network. Follow us on Twitter at: @Beyond_The_Flag and “Like” us on Facebook

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Tags: Danica Patrick FanSided Jeff Gordon NASCAR Tony Stewart

  • Frederick Fumducker

    Let’s see here. Mario Andretti came out of open wheel and won in NASCAR. 1 win in 14 races. AJ Foyt came out of open wheel and won in NASCAR. 7 wins in 128 races. Dan Gurney raced open wheel and sports cars and won in NASCAR. 5 wins in 16 races. Kasey Kahne came out of USAC Silver Crown (open wheel) and won in NASCAR. 16 wins in 378 races. Robby Gordon came out of open wheel and won in NASCAR. 4 wins in NASCAR. Juan Pablo Montoya came out of open wheel and won in NASCAR. 3 wins in NASCAR. AJ Allmendinger has wins in NASCAR. 3 wins, 2 in NNS & 1 win in the Rolex Series. What do they all have in common? They’ve all won races in NASCAR. Poor Jacques Villeneuve tried racing renting 2nd class equipment from Bill Davis Racing. He never had a chance. Especially since he was paying for it out of his own pocket. Maybe if he had somebody like Ganassi, DEI, RCR, HMS, or RFR behind him he might have done something. But we can only speculate on that.

    Then we come to Danica, NASCAR’s current messiah who will save NASCAR from itself. She first showed up in 2010, has run 128 races under the NASCAR banner and has yet to score a win. The best she’s done in the Cup Series is 2 Top 10′s in one season, that being this season. With all of 1 win in 16 years of professional racing, you have to question exactly why she is in NASCAR. It’s obviously not for her high number of wins in open wheel. And looking at her stats in ARCA, K&N Series, & Rolex Series, it isn’t because of the high number of wins there either. All you have to do is look at what NASCAR itself has written and said. She isn’t in NASCAR because of her driving skills. She’s in NASCAR as a marketing tool. An attempt to try to bring in new fans. And judging from the half-empty grandstands and poor TV ratings, i would say the experiment has been at best a dismal flop. She has top flight equipment, a top flight team behind her, a mega-million dollar sponsor behind her, a great pit crew, and a pretty solid crew chief. And what do we see in return? Not much really.

    So I wouldn’t say the entire open-wheel to NASCAR transition has been a flop. There have been successes in a few instances. Stewart & Kahne being the more successful drivers in recent years. There are probably more open wheelers who will make the transition in the near future. To say it is a total flop in complete conjecture at this point IMO. Like all racing disciplines, there are successes and there are failures.

    • Gib

      What about Tony S. ?

  • Kevin Price

    I covered this subject in part of my “Danica – By The Numbers” video. She IS less successful than other open wheel transplants. In ALL respects. She hasn’t had the success that most of them have had while in open wheel, and she certainly hasn’t shown any promise in NASCAR

    Here is the video I was talking about. The open wheel comparison begins at about the :58 mark.