It seems Danica Patrick, arguably the most popular driver in the IRL IndyCar series, will be returning to her present seat on the Andretti Racing team (formerly AGR) and will also probably be driving a handful of NASCAR races for JR Motorsports.
Though neither deal has been finalized or announced officially, the consensus among experts is that Patrick will sign a three-year contract with Andretti Racing and a two-year deal with JR.
Though the Andretti team’s fortunes have fallen since the team’s heyday in the middle of the decade, the team is reorganizing and refocusing, and apparently Patrick feels she can find success with Andretti Racing. Patrick has won only one race with AGR, but has finished fifth in the standings twice in a row.
Target-Ganassi team owner chip Ganassi was apparently considering offering Patrick a ride with his team, if she could bring enough sponsorship to fund a third car, but for unknown reasons, Ganassi decided to stick with current series champion Dario Franchitti and former champ Scott Dixon and a two-car team.
An official announcement from Andretti Racing is expected in December.
Patrick has been looking for a part-time ride in NASACR since before her AGR contract expired, meeting with several teams informally. Many had expected her to drive for her friend Tony Stewart.
Instead, she will apparently sign a two-year deal with JR Motorsports, the NASCAR Nationwide Series team owned by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
"She's really serious about coming to NASCAR. A lot of people, I guess, thought that it was just a media hoax or her kind of blowing smoke," Earnhardt Jr. told ESPN. "She's really serious about it, and she's going to do it with somebody."
While the details have yet to be released, most assume Patrick will drive a full season in IRL IndyCar, and will drive a nationwide car for JR Motorsports on weekends when IRL doesn’t race.
Patrick is probably the most recognizable face in IndyCar racing, and appeals to fans across a much wider demographic than the series usually attracts. Her continued presence in IndyCar is a boon to the series.
Many have been skeptical about Patrick’s chances in NASCAR, pointing out that former AGR teammate Dario Franchitti won two IRL championships but performed poorly in NASCAR. Questions have been raised about the ability of the 5’2”, 100-lb. Patrick to handle the 3450-lb. NASCAR vehicles.
Patrick, whose strong will bolstered her while facing discrimination while racing in Europe as a teenager and supported her while breaking into the ranks of IndyCar, will certainly be needed as she faces NASCAR’s more traditional racing culture, which tends not to see driving as a sport for women, and NASCAR’s traditional fanbase, where she is largely treated as a media sensation, not as a driver.
It is unlikely Patrick will pay any attention to her detractors. She has proven throughout her three-year IRL career that she can run with the best when her car allows, and that she cannot be intimidated.