Wed Aug 03, 2011 11:35 am
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two people familiar with Danica Patrick's 2012 plans said she is in the final stages of a deal to run a full-time Nationwide Series schedule with JR Motorsports and limited Sprint Cup Series races with the team owned by two-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart. The people spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because the deal won't be finished until she has secured a release from Andretti Autosport.
The talks also include her continuing to run the Indianapolis 500, one person told AP.
JR Motorsports co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said last weekend he wants Patrick to run a full Nationwide schedule with his team. She has driven 19 Nationwide races for his team the past two seasons and has six more scheduled starts this year.
"I would like for her to run full time, and I'm sure she is considering that, and I think she would enjoy it," Earnhardt said at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "I feel confident that she's content where she is and happy with what we're doing. I think things are looking positive for us to put something together."
Earlier this year, Stewart said he would love to work with Patrick but only in the Sprint Cup Series. He has wanted to expand his two-car Stewart-Haas Racing organization but had no interest in fielding a Nationwide car.
"Anybody that's got a Cup team that would have the availability would jump at the chance to do something with her," Stewart said in May. "You would be crazy not to entertain an offer like that and an opportunity for her to drive a race car for you."
The potential to continue to race the Indianapolis 500 is a new wrinkle, considering JRM co-owner Kelley Earnhardt has said that it would be difficult for Patrick to run that race and compete for the Nationwide championship.
Running the Indy 500 requires drivers to spend most of the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and NASCAR this year ran three Nationwide races during that span.
Patrick finished third in the 2009 Indy 500, the highest finish for a woman in open-wheel's most prestigious race. She has one career victory in IndyCar and currently is ranked 11th in the series standings. In 109 career starts, she has three poles and 20 top-fives.
Although she's winless in 19 career Nationwide races, she flirted with victory last month at Daytona, leading 13 laps before the last-lap chaos dropped her to a 10th-place finish.
"She's way ahead of the curve," Earnhardt said. "We've had the opportunity to put several drivers in that car, and her performance is right on par with all those drivers. We started out struggling and she had a steep, steep climb to go and she's really come a long way. I'm excited about what the potential is with her going forward."
Wed Aug 03, 2011 11:37 am
Danica Patrick is coming to NASCAR full-time next year in the Nationwide Series, and is likely to run seven Sprint Cup Series races for Stewart-Haas Racing, reports the Associated Press.
But if Patrick really wants use those seven Cup races to prepare for her future, the best place to make her major-league debut would be on NASCAR's biggest stage: The Daytona 500.
At least that's the opinion of Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel, who writes that Danica should start with the 500 because "If you're going to roll the dice on the Sprint Cup, why sit out the main event?"
It's an excellent point, for several reasons: Her sponsors would certainly love for her to be in the Daytona 500; it would give her the experience of racing in NASCAR's Super Bowl before going to Cup full time in 2013; she would have a shot to do fairly well.
Wetzel notes that while Danica hasn't been particularly competitive on some tracks, she's done well in restrictor-plate races. She had a chance to win the July Daytona race until the last lap.
So if she did well in the Daytona 500? Watch out.
"NASCAR can only dream of what the ratings would be with Patrick in contention late in what is already its most-watched, most-hyped, most-important race," Wetzel writes.