Since Danica Patrick has officially announced she will make her NASCAR debut by driving the Nationwide Series race at Daytona – a decision that has proved controversial already – fans have raised many questions and some have said they're downright angry.
Here's an attempt to provide some answers with the most accurate version of events:
Why is Danica doing the Nationwide race? She's being incredibly selfish to knock teammate Kelly Bires out of his ride.
That's what I thought at first, too. But now I'll admit I didn't know the whole backstory.
Let's start with what we knew all along: Due to a contractual agreement with sponsor Hellmann's, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has to drive the Daytona Nationwide race. And since there was only one car available (because another sponsor was not found) Dale Jr. had to drive the No. 88 car - the car that was scheduled to run a full season with Kelly Bires. When Danica announced she'd drive the No. 7 car, that officially left Bires out of a JRM ride for Daytona.
Exactly! So Danica is stealing Bires' ride, right?
Not quite. The team considers the No. 7 car to be its own separate deal: It exists solely because GoDaddy.com decided to come with Danica and sponsor her in a dozen races. The plan was that if the Daytona ARCA race went well, it would become a baker's dozen. After her sixth-place finish, it was decided Sunday - by the team, not just Danica - that the Nationwide race would be worth trying.
IF the team had decided Danica was not ready for the Nationwide race, then a decision would have been made as to whether Bires would drive the car. But there were other drivers that may have been even better fits for GoDaddy, such as GoDaddy-sponsored driver Mark Martin. Ultimately, Bires was never a shoo-in for the No. 7 car even if Danica wasn't going to drive it.
As JR Motorsports spokesman Mike Davis put it, "Danica isn't screwing anybody. Danica's just doing what she came to do."
That's totally lame. Bires is supposed to run a full season and will now miss the season opener? Why can't JR Motorsports just field a third car?
Co-owner Earnhardt Jr. said last week that bringing a third car was not feasible. It would cost at least $150,000 to bring two more cars (a primary and backup) and field another pit crew, etc. for an unsponsored ride, he said. And at this point, with JRM struggling to find sponsors to run the full season, that's just not a financial gamble the organization can take.
Said Davis: "We feel bad about the Kelly Bires situation and we're still digging hard to find more sponsorship for this year so we don't run into this situation again. Regardless on what kind of pay scale you have, everyone has a budget: You know what you can afford, and you would never go spend more money than that. A race team is no different. Sending more than two teams down there crosses the line for us on what we can do and can't do."
That's total crap! Earnhardt Jr. makes gazillions of dollars and he's the one who is ultimately bumping Bires out of the 88 car. Why doesn't he just open his fat wallet and spend the money himself to field the team?
You're assuming that isn't happening already. Davis inferred that Earnhardt Jr. is making a significant personal investment in the team.
"We committed the 88 run full-time this year, yet we only have part-time sponsorship," he said. "That other money's got to come from somewhere, doesn't it?"
Davis said he's heard from fans who say Earnhardt Jr. could afford to bring six cars to a race if he wanted to. So what gives, Junior?
The bottom line, Davis said, is "it's expensive and it doesn't make business sense to fork out personal money. There's [personal] money being poured into this team already."
OK, fine. So maybe it's not a good idea for Earnhardt Jr. to spend his own cash in this situation. But why doesn't JRM just buy out one of other teams – hell, even a start-and-park – so at least Bires can race and get some points?
That's a possibility. Davis said the biggest opponent right now is time, since it's already the week of the race. But if there's a team that could use the money and it's a Chevrolet (Bires likely has an agreement with the manufacturer that prohibits him from driving other makes), Davis said JRM could step up and get Bires in a car.
"We're going to look for those opportunities and hopefully there will be an opportunity that doesn't conflict," he said.
Well, forget JRM then. Can't Bires find his own ride for Daytona? And how's he feeling about all this?
Bires is free to search for his own ride, if he can find one. Unfortunately, there may have been some opportunities he didn't take in recent weeks because he planned on driving at Daytona. Most people, even team insiders, thought Danica wouldn't be ready for the Nationwide race and would make her debut at California. That has to sting for Bires, but he made it sound via his Twitter account that he's doing his best to be a team player.
"As everyone can see I will not be running Daytona," he tweeted. "Very bummed out about it! I will be ready to make a statement in Fontana.
"Let's be positive here everyone. JRM has given me a great opportunity to race. I know everyone's mad, but the bashing is unacceptable!"
But I'm still mad that Bires is in this situation! If I can't blame Danica or JR Motorsports, who can I blame?
As with most every other team in the sport right now, sponsors rule. In fact, sponsors perhaps have more power than ever before in regard to who drives their cars.
The bottom line is that in this struggling economy, a driver who can bring money trumps a driver who can bring talent. Teams would prefer both, but if given a choice, most are taking the former (see: John Wes Townley).
This money keeps the teams afloat in hopes they'll be able to field winning cars in the future. But there's no doubt that for now, teams have to give sponsors what they want.
In this case, Hellmann's wants the sport's most popular driver (for obvious reasons) and GoDaddy wants one of the sports world's biggest celebrities (also for obvious reasons). It leaves up-and-coming Bires out in the cold, but there's little anyone can do about it.
My suggestion: Support the drivers who aren't financially backed more than you ever have before. If you want their talent to win out, do what you can to make your voice heard.
Back to Danica for a second: An ARCA race is one thing, but isn't she going to be way over her head and potentially cause a huge wreck in the Nationwide race, affecting the championship battle on another front?
Yep, pretty much.