NASCAR: Patrick leaves Indy for NASCAR
By John Marshall
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. ó With the not-so-subtle shape of a stock car under cover just in front of her and spotlights glaring in her face, Danica Patrick feigned drama for an announcement everyone already knew was coming.
ěFor breaking news that will shock the world …,î she said facetiously on Thursday.
Peeling the lid off the worst-kept secret in auto racing, Patrick ended months of skirting questions about her future by officially declaring her plans to leave IndyCar in 2012 to race a full Nationwide season for JR Motorsports and a part-time Sprint Cup schedule with Stewart-Haas Racing.
One of the most marketable stars in auto racing, Patrick had been rumored to be headed to NASCAR even before she ran her first stock race, the ARCA series event at Daytona in 2010. Even while racing limited Nationwide schedules the past two years for Dale Earnhardt Jr.ís team, Patrick had deflected talk of her leaving IndyCar for the fenders of NASCAR.
That all changed, at least officially, when she signed a contract with GoDaddy.com chairman Bob Parsons in front of TV cameras and a few dozen cheering company employees on Thursday.
ěIf it was about money, Iíd have gone a long time ago,î Patrick said from GoDaddyís offices in north Scottsdale. ěI just go where my heart tells me, where my gut tells me to go, where Iím enjoying my life the most, where I feel like I can have the most success. Iíve truly enjoyed my experience in NASCAR, to the point that I want to do it full-time.î
Patrick will run most of her races in the lower-tier Nationwide Series with only a handful of Sprint Cup races, but her switch to NASCAR should be a big boost to a sport thatís been hurt by a sagging economy and a dip in popularity from its heyday just a few years back.
With her telegenic looks, mass appeal, not to mention racy Super Bowl ads, Patrick brings something thatís hard to come by: star power.
ěWe are pleased Danica Patrick has chosen to race full time in NASCAR in 2012,î NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said in a statement. ěShe 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.î
On the other side of the wheel, Patrickís decision leaves a big void in IndyCar. Patrick is still arguably the sportís biggest star ó certainly itís most recognizable ó and losing her will likely put a dent in the sportís momentum.
ěDanica has always been a great ambassador for IndyCar, and there is no doubt she has left a positive impression on our sport,î Indy CEO Randy Bernard said. ěShe has touched millions of fans and many that were new to motorsports.
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