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.