Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's official: Patrick to move full-time to NASCAR in 2012

Danica Patrick poses with the No. 7 Nationwide Series GoDaddy.com Chevrolet
on Thursday at
the GoDaddy.com Headquarters on Thursday in Scottsdale, Ariz.Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Danica Patrick has a new home: NASCAR.

The IndyCar driver and her longtime sponsor, GoDaddy.com, put to rest Thursday what company CEO Bob Parsons’ called “the worst-kept secret in racing”: Patrick will move to the NASCAR Nationwide Series full-time in 2012 for JR Motorsports and will run a partial Sprint Cup schedule for Stewart-Haas Racing.

“It’s very exciting, I’m just excited to finally say it,” Patrick said, speaking from Go Daddy’s company headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz.

For two years, Patrick has been splitting her time between the IndyCar Series and the Nationwide Series. While maintaining a full-time IndyCar schedule, Patrick started racing a part-time Nationwide Series schedule for JR Motorsports, driving the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, in 2010. In 20 starts, she has three top-10 finishes, all of which came this season. Patrick claimed her career-best finish and made history in the process earlier this year at Las Vegas when she finished 4th, the highest finish for a female driver in NASCAR history.

Her best race so far came in July at the Daytona Nationwide race, when she engaged in the two-car style of bump drafting with Trevor Bayne, future car owner Tony Stewart and her JRM teammate Aric Almirola. Patrick lead 13 laps and contended for the win before finishing 10th.

“I made this decision because of how much I enjoy driving stockcars and how much I enjoy in particular racing stockcars. The races are so interesting – there’s so many pit stops, there’s so many strategies that play out. You have to take care of your car at times, you have to know when to push with it, you can kind of throw them around a bit, overcome some handling issues, you can bump around, which is pretty fun. I just really had fun with it. It’s really about enjoying the racing, and enjoying the people and enjoying my life when I’m at those races and everyone around me,” Patrick said.

Patrick will attempt to run eight to 10 Sprint Cup races next year, and she has her eye on moving up to NASCAR's top level the following year. A statement from Stewart-Haas Racing confirmed the team's intention of running Patrick full-time in Sprint Cup in 2013.

As to whether her impressive performance at Daytona will lead her to attempt the 2012 Daytona 500, Patrick said, “We’re considering it,” but that her Sprint Cup schedule has not been set.

Patrick sounded more unsure about running next year’s Indianapolis 500.

“I love the Indy 500, I think it’s the greatest race in the world,” Patrick said. “It’s something I would love to continue to do, but at this point in time, with the schedule and the Nationwide schedule and everything up in air, we’re just not sure if that’s going to be in the future or not.”

During her rookie season in IndyCar in 2005, Patrick became the first woman to lead the prestigious Indianapolis 500 and went on to finish 4th. Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been one of her best tracks in her IndyCar career. In seven Indy 500 starts, she has two top 5s and six top 10s.

Patrick had little experience in stockcars before making the leap to NASCAR last year. Outside of open wheel, she made two starts in the Grand-Am Rolex Series in 2006 and 2009.

She made her stockcar debut in the February 2010 ARCA season opener at Daytona, finishing an impressive 6th. She referenced the race as a life-changing moment.

Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
“The first time I got out of the car at the ARCA race at Daytona, it was the most fun I had ever had in a racecar – it probably had to do with the bumping, but it was the most fun I’d ever had a car, and I think that really started it all, and it went from there,” she said.

Patrick said one of the biggest adjustments in moving from IndyCar to NASCAR has been learning the rhythm of the races and “what it takes to make a car fast from not only the first five laps but through a 50-lap run.”

“Those kind of things, they just take experience and learning. I’ve definitely learned a lot, I feel like I’ve gotten better over time for sure, and that’s just hopefully going to continue,” she said.

Patrick tried to dispel the notion that the move to NASCAR is solely based on money.

“If it was about money, I would have gone a long time ago,” she said. “I would just go with where my heart tells me to go, where my gut tells me to go, where I’m enjoying my life the most and where I feel like I could have the most success.

“I’ve truly enjoyed my experience in NASCAR, to the point that I want to do it full time. I feel like in the last year I’ve really come around much more on the track. Top 10s are happening much more frequently, and I feel like I’m getting it more and more all the time. I still have a lot to learn, that’s for sure, but I feel like I’m getting it more all the time and that I really feel confident that I can be successful in the future.”

“The people are so nice, everybody is so nice to me and they want to help me. … I really enjoy the people, the atmosphere and the racing. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”

During her IndyCar career, Patrick won the Rookie of the Year Award for both the Indy 500 and the IndyCar season in 2005. In 2008 she won her first and to date only race, the Indy Japan 300 at Motegi, becoming the first woman to win a major open-wheel event.

“It was great to win at Motegi in Japan. I’ll always remember that as the highlight so far,” Patrick said.

Patrick looked back on her time in IndyCar and what she’ll miss after seven seasons of competition. She hopes her fans will follow her over to NASCAR.

“I’ll miss some of the venues, I’ll miss some of the people for sure. I don’t know if the fans will continue to follow me, but I hope so,” she said. “I hope that I don’t lose any of those fans who have followed me for a long time in IndyCar … hopefully they continue to watch me and they continue to cheer for me in NASCAR.”

Patrick’s highest finish in the IndyCar points standings was 5th in 2009. She has driven for Andretti Autosport in the series since 2007.

"Danica enjoyed the most success ever by a female driver in the world of motorsports and was a leading marketing force within IndyCar," said Michael Andretti, president and CEO of Andretti Autosport, in a statement. "I wish her only continued success in her career. I want to thank Danica for her valued time with our team. "

Patrick is in her second season driving for team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. at JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series. Today’s announcement makes it official that she will be driving for friend and two-time Sprint Cup champion Stewart in select Sprint Cup events.

“I’m really lucky to drive for two really talented drivers and have a lot of fun and learn from them,” Patrick said. “Dale’s been great. I’ve known Tony for a long time … having that IndyCar background that he has, I think we can relate to each other a lot.”

In a statement, Stewart said, "We’re proud of the fact she wants to come and be a part of Stewart-Haas Racing and what we’ve built with Ryan Newman and myself and all of our partners. Having Danica and Go Daddy as a combination at SHR is something we’re really looking forward to.

“The thing you see in Danica right away is how determined she is to be good at what she does. She’s very dedicated to taking the time and effort to make the transition from Indy cars to stock cars. She has talent, she has the right mindset and she has the proper drive and determination. It doesn’t matter who it is you’re looking for, those are the key attributes that you look for in a driver, and Danica’s got them.”

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France even weighed in on Patrick’s move.

“We are pleased Danica Patrick has chosen to race full time in NASCAR in 2012. She has demonstrated a strong desire to compete and NASCAR provides the best opportunity to race against the top drivers in the world with the largest and most loyal fan base in motorsports on a week-to-week basis. Danica has shown solid improvement in NASCAR and we believe her decision to run full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, with additional races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will be exciting for our fans and a great challenge for her,” France said in a statement.

In her most recent Nationwide stint, Patrick finished 24th at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal after brake issues interrupted what would have been a top-15 finish. Up next on Patrick’s Nationwide schedule for 2011 are Richmond, Sept. 9; Kansas, Oct. 8; Texas, Nov. 5; Phoenix, Nov. 12; and Homestead-Miami, Nov. 19.

0 comments :

Post a Comment