Danica Patrick should consider her apparent decision to stay in Indy cars and resist the allure of NASCAR a sound investment beyond padding her bank account. A move to NASCAR would be easy money, but it's the wrong time.
By re-signing with Andretti Green Racing (AGR) as she has indicated she will do, Patrick gives herself at least another season to move from a top-five driver to a true championship contender.
The money AGR can expect from Patrick's car sponsor Motorola should help improve that team's technical resources for her run at the 2010 title.
And the IndyCar Series keeps its biggest household name.
Team owner Chip Ganassi got it right when early on in the summer's "Danica Sweepstakes" he suggested she not rush a move to stock cars.
"My counsel to her was that she's close to making that last step in Indy Car racing and she could easily do that in the next three to five years and still be able to do this [NASCAR],'' Ganassi said in July, acknowledging his team had discussions with Patrick.
"She's one of those athletes with an opportunity to make career moves into the foreseeable future. It's up to her.''
Perhaps one of the signs that Patrick's immediate future is in open-wheel is the fundamental fact that she still hasn't turned a lap in a stock car. More established commodities like Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti, Tony Stewart and Sam Hornish Jr. ran races in NASCAR's development series and put in miles of testing before making the full-on commitment.
And frankly, it's not clear if any of NASCAR's top teams even seriously pursued Patrick.
Other than cashing in on her popularity, it didn't make a lot of sense for her to jump in with both feet. Yet.
Mistakes would be magnified, her learning curve compressed and if she was unsuccessful -- as plenty of other talented open-wheel drivers have been -- it would have been exponentially worse for Patrick.
The unfortunate reality is that it is important for Patrick to make wise choices because she is always going to be heavily scrutinized.
By choosing to establish herself and resist the apple dangling from NASCAR's tree, Patrick puts herself in better position when the time is right. It will still mean a lucrative contract. And by spending an extra season or seasons establishing herself and bettering her racing credentials, she will also gain something equally as significant as a big paycheck: experience and respect.
Patrick is currently ranked fifth in the IndyCar Series championship -- best of the drivers who aren't steering a car owned by Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi and ahead of recent past champions Dan Wheldon and her AGR teammate Tony Kanaan, who is presumably in the same equipment.
The remaining three races are on ovals -- Patrick's strong point -- including the Twin Ring Motegi in Japan where Patrick made history last year as the first woman to win a major open-wheel race.
She's had nine top-10 finishes and led 26 laps in 14 starts this year. Her best showing was a third in the Indianapolis 500, a race where she's proven herself a legitimate favorite starting with her 2005 debut there.
People forget that the 27-year old Patrick is only in her fifth full season. And her stats -- one win, 16 top-five finishes, 45 top-10s -- stack up favorably when compared to the first five seasons of drivers like Kanaan (1 win, 16 top-5s, 49 top-10s) and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves (seven wins, 16 top-5s, 34 top-10s).
In fact, through his first four seasons Patrick's teammate, Marco Andretti, has the same number of victorires (one) and nearly twice as many DNFs (22) as Patrick (12) but is widely touted as one of America's best racing talents.
Another few wins, a real run at a title and Patrick is on the verge of something genuinely significant.
Of course there will always be that certain segment of the population that can't get past an attractive woman succeeding against males in athletic competition. They will demean her and her successes, no matter how well she fares.
Patrick's good looks -- and her penchant for using them -- work for and against her, often making her an easy target in the sports world. But they have nothing to do with her ability to drive a car.
The Sports Illustrated swimsuit spreads are cool, but so is earning the coveted cover as a racer. She's done both.
I remember when her former car owner, Bobby Rahal, brought Patrick into the massive media center at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2004 for a formal introduction. In a very low-key interview session attended by only a dozen or so reporters, Patrick confidently predicted good things were in store.
They are. And by making this sound, reasonable decision to resist the temptation of NASCAR a little while longer, Patrick still has everything to gain and nothing to lose.