IndyCar superstar Danica Patrick on Tuesday ended months of speculation by signing a deal to race in NASCAR next season, running a partial schedule in the Nationwide Series that could bring her back to Nashville Superspeedway.
Patrick, a fan favorite during her past trips to Nashville for IndyCar races, did not disclose which races she will run. But it's speculated that she will focus on “stand-alone” Nationwide events that are not run in connection with Sprint Cup races.
The stand-alone races — such as the two at the Superspeedway — have fewer big-league Cup drivers in the lineup and therefore are easier for newcomers such as Patrick.
Patrick will drive for JR Motorsports, owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. She will continue to run a full (17-race) IndyCar schedule.
In addition to the Nationwide races, Patrick will run at least one ARCA event, probably the season opener at Daytona in mid-February. That will be her stock car racing debut.
The 27-year-old native of Roscoe, Ill., who resides in Phoenix with her husband, is one of sport’s most visible personalities. Last year she got more AOL hits than any other pro athlete, including Tiger Woods, Tom Brady or Eli Manning.
Critics note that Patrick has won only one IRL race in five seasons, and contend that the swirl of media attention is generated by her swimsuit-model looks. But the fact that she has led the Indy 500 — and almost won it — proves she can handle higher racing speeds than those typically run in NASCAR.