A Beginning And An End

It's ironic that on the day the IRL finally announces a series title sponsor the sport's biggest star appears all but set to leave Indy Car racing.

That seems to be just business as usual for the beleaguered world of open wheel racing.

While Patrick will continue to run in the IRL as part of her impending deal with Andretti-Green Racing, she'll dip her toes into the stock car world with a part-time relationship with JR Motorsports.

Now whether Patrick makes it in NASCAR is still to be decided but one things is for sure - the people who run Indy Car racing have to be praying daily she doesn't.

Like it or not, Patrick is still the face of the IRL and despite a strong line-up of talented and personable drivers, the league will take a hit if she packs up and goes stock car racing.

The IRL has already lost gobs of exposure with its television deal that saw races shift from the ESPN world to Versus Network this year. While the quality of the telecasts were top notch, the smaller universe of Versus dropped Indy Car racing audience numbers to some of the lowest in any professional sport's history.

And with the ongoing battle between Versus and DirecTV, which dropped the network from its lineup resulting in even less homes capable of tuning into IRL racing, building the sport's audience is going to be a challenge to say the least.

Throw in the prospect of losing Patrick and things are darn right bleak.

The upside for the IRL is that Patrick will continue to be part of the open wheel world even during her foray into NASCAR. The deal set to be announced with JR Motorsports will have Patrick in about a dozen Nationwide Series races for each of the next two seasons in addition to her full effort with Andretti Green Racing in the IRL.

Perhaps there will be enough NASCAR fans intrigued with Patrick's exploits to follow her performance over in Indy Car racing which could bode well for the league's effort to gain more interest.

There's no doubt the high-speed oval racing action of the IRL is top notch entertainment and who knows, maybe some of the disgruntled members of NASCAR Nation who complain the racing in the Sprint Cup Series leaves something to be desired these days will get hooked watching the Indy Cars rocket around places like Texas, Chicagoland, Kansas and Kentucky three-wide.

But make no mistake, Patrick's future career decision will have a much bigger impact on the IRL than it will NASCAR.

While NASCAR will certainly welcome Patrick with open arms, the sport will definitely continue should she find stock car racing not to her liking.

At this point the same can't be said for the IRL and there has to be some worried people over at the corner of 16th and Georgetown St. in Indianapolis.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2009

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