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Danica Emphatically Denies NASCAR Reports

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 26 2011

Danica Patrick say reports of a deal to go full-time to NASCAR are inaccurate. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Indianapolis – Open-wheel star Danica Patrick has flat-out denied a report that she has a tentative deal to go fulltime racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series next year.

The report of her move to NASCAR was posted on ESPN.com late Tuesday, as well as

ESPN’s “Bottom Line” crawl on its various network platforms.

“That is not true at all. Not at all,” Patrick said Thursday during a Media Day interview leading into Sunday’s 100th anniversary edition of the Indianapolis 500. “I was watching ESPN Classic – watching old Indy-car races – and my husband (Paul Hospenthal) saw it running across the bottom of the screen. And he was like, ‘I think I saw your name at the bottom of the screen.’ So I saw it like anyone else saw it as news. I have no idea where that came from, but there is definitely no tentative deal and there haven’t been any decisions made. So that is pure speculation at this point.”

Patrick, 29, is in the walk year of her contract with Andretti Autosport and team-owner Michael Andretti, who signed her to a two-year deal with “joint option” for a third year in December 2009. Andretti also signed-off on Danica’s desire to give stock car racing a try beginning in 2010 via a limited ARCA and NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule with JR Motorsports, whose principal owner is Sprint Cup star Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Junior confirmed Thursday that he is not applying any pressure on Patrick to bolt the IZOD IndyCar Series for Nationwide, NASCAR’s second-tier national touring circuit.

“We’ll just see what she decides to do,” Junior said during an interview at Charlotte Motor Speedway, site of this weekend’s Nationwide/Sprint Cup doubleheader. “I think

Danica Patrick and her NASCAR boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (File photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

she wants to have more success and doing it all the time would be a good move. She just has to choose what she wants to do. What is right for her. What she thinks she will be happy doing. Just make the right choice for herself, that’s what is important.”

Asked if he thought Danica was ready to make the move to NASCAR’s more crowded schedule and lifestyle, Junior said: “She has been racing with us enough to know whether she is ready or not. It’s really up to her. It’s really not up to anybody else. My opinion on that deal really doesn’t matter. She is the one who knows the truth and she’ll make the decision I think she needs to make and that will be that.”

Patrick became the first female in history to win a race in a major, closed-course event in April 2008 at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. Despite that three-year vacuum since her lone IndyCar Series victory, Patrick remains open-wheel’s most recognizable “brand,” and a crossover star in NASCAR for joint sponsor GoDaddy.com.

As such, Patrick has taken a keen interest in the marketing initiatives introduced by Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s chief executive officer, since his tenure began in March 2010. Patrick said she didn’t know if IndyCar could “survive” without her presence fulltime.

“I’m proud of the series for what we’ve done and the hard work everyone’s put in,” Patrick said. “IZOD’s been a great promoter of the series, so I really feel like there’s been some really positive things that have happened. So whether I go or whether I stay I don’t think I’m capable of answering whether the IndyCar Series would be better or worse.

“There’s still some great races. I think our oval races are amazing to watch. I think that it’s quite the show. And I think that given the new cars (chassis and engines for 2012)

Danica Patrick's future remains uncertain. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

it’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out between the teams and the different manufacturers. I always said that would be a really positive thing for the IndyCar Series, to get some competition going again and some separation between team-to-team so that we’re not all in the same equipment that we’ve had for a decade. Those are all really positive things. So we’ll have to see how it all plays out.”

The series is scheduled to compete in 2010 with a basic safety tub chassis supplied by Dallara Automobili, with engine manufacturers Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus encouraged to introduce distinctive “aero kits.” The new equipment is an answer, in part, to fans requests to take IndyCar away from its current “spec series” status.

“Yeah, I take everything into account,” Patrick said.”I think that’s a really interesting thing for the IndyCar Series. I think it’s really positive. We’ll have to see how everything evolves. And we’re very far from any kind of finish line on that, that’s for sure.”

Additionally, Patrick chuckled at the timing of the ESPN post, leading up to the extensive hoopla surrounding a century of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Patrick will start Sunday’s race 26th in the 33-car field after averaging 224.861 mph as a Bump Day qualifier on Sunday.

In particular, Patrick’s record on the 2.5-mile IMS oval has been stellar, marked by a gender-best fourth-place start/finish as a rookie in 2005. She has five top-10 finishes in those six starts, including a sixth-place result last May, despite failing to lead a lap in the race for the fifth consecutive year. Patrick did pace the race three times for 19 laps in 2005, becoming the first woman to lead a lap in the event and finish on the lead lap.

Speculation continues that despite the allure of the additional money Danica would make in NASCAR, her desire to become the first woman to win the Indy 500 still might keep her in INDYCAR fulltime.

“I feel very flattered that the speculation about me would make “SportsCenter” and make the ticker-tape,” said Patrick, 15th in series points after four races with only one top-10 result. “I guess that’s just how much people want to believe in something. But we’re not there yet.

“I’m not annoyed. I guess I’m surprised. The stories come out, and never mind when you see something on the ticker-tape. This is not an easy decision. The team, sponsor, opportunity – a lot goes into that.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 26 2011
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