There’s been discussion since 2017 of Danica Patrick joining NBC’s NASCAR coverage after her retirement from racing, but she’s actually heading to that network in a different capacity (at least at first). NBC announced Wednesday morning that Patrick will serve as a studio analyst for their upcoming coverage of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 26. That broadcast will be a notable one, as it marks NBC’s first time airing the race; ABC aired it for the 54th and final time last year, which also marked Patrick’s final race. Here’s more from NBC’s release:
The former INDYCAR and NASCAR driver will serve as a studio analyst on race day, contributing to NBC Sports’ pre-race, in-race, and post-race coverage alongside host Mike Tirico. Patrick will also participate in NBC Sports’ coverage of Indy 500 Pole Day on Sunday, May 19.
…“Danica has a perspective unlike any other driver in the history of motorsports and will be a great addition to our first-ever coverage of the Indy 500,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President, Production, NBC Sports & NBCSN. “She has proven to be as fearless with her opinions and analysis as she was in breaking barriers while racing in the most competitive motorsports circuits in the world.”
“The Indianapolis 500 holds a very special place in my heart,” said Patrick. “The moment I drive into the facility, I’m flooded with positive emotions. I have no doubt it’ll be the same this year when I come back as an analyst. To be on the NBC Sports team with Mike Tirico will be an honor and I look forward to adding my unique perspective. I’ve been in the race eight times, including last year, so I’m familiar with the dynamics within IndyCar after being away for seven years. To me, Indy feels like home!”
There’s some logic to this move, as Patrick is a recognizable name and also has some broadcasting experience. She was part of three NASCAR XFinity Series broadcasts for Fox, including a Drivers Only one, and she also hosted the ESPYS last year. It sounds like this will be a different and more prominent role than the race coverage she’s done before, but that experience should still prove useful for her. And having a name like Patrick attached should help build up some hype for NBC’s first Indy 500, especially as their release also mentions that she’ll “help promote the Indy 500 by appearing across numerous NBCUniversal programs and platforms in the days and weeks leading up to the race.”
That hype may be needed, as last year’s broadcast saw the lowest rating ever for the race. And that was despite plenty of intriguing storylines, including Patrick’s final race (she’s seen above ahead of that race). But it may help that this is now moving to NBC; that network has more incentive to promote the Indy 500 than ABC and ESPN did, given that they’ve televised the majority of the rest of the IndyCar circuit (across NBC and NBCSN) since 2009, and that they’re taking over all IndyCar broadcasts this year (with the Indy 500 and seven other races airing on NBC’s broadcast network, and the others airing on NBCSN). So there’s good motivation for them to pump this up, and Patrick’s pre-race appearances may help with that.
It will be interesting to see if this is a one-off venture into race commentary for Patrick, or if she winds up doing more in this arena down the road. As mentioned above, there was talk of her heading to NBC’s NASCAR broadcasts as far back as November 2017, and NBC certainly has plenty of racing properties they could use her on. But as Bob Pockrass wrote in an ESPNw profile of Patrick last October, she’s already pretty busy:
The highest-finishing woman in Indianapolis 500 (third) and Daytona 500 (eighth) history and the only woman to win a pole for a NASCAR Cup Series race has transitioned to life as a businesswoman, as she owns a winery (Somnium), a fashion line (Warrior by Danica Patrick) and has written a book (“Pretty Intense”) that focuses on workouts and recipes to promote mental and physical health.
At that time, though, Patrick said she was considering other opportunities as well, saying “There are some other things that we have come across and are interesting. Maybe they will move forward, maybe they won’t.” Maybe one of those will turn out to be a more regular broadcasting job. Or maybe the Indy 500 will be it for now. In any case, it will be worth watching how she does on this broadcast.