Half way through her rookie campaign, Danica Patrick is still drawing a huge fan base.
Next year will not only be her second year in the Nationwide series, it will also be, according to her contractual obligation, her final year in the IRL.
Patrick’s camp has made it clear her ultimate goal is to drive full time in the Sprint Cup series by 2012.
Beyond this season, except for her IRL schedule, there has been nothing listed for next year in the Nationwide series, or beyond to the Sprint Cup series for Patrick.
If next year's Nationwide schedule parallels this years schedule, there will be several opportunities for Patrick to run more than one race in a two or three day span.
Recently Brian France stated there would be some changes in how the Nationwide series was run next year.
Speculation is there will be limitations on how many races, if any, a full time Sprint Cup driver can enter. While this speculation, on the surface, has nothing to do with Danica Patrick, it does bring up a very important question.
If full time Sprint Cup drivers are not allowed to race in the Nationwide series, will Nationwide regulars be allowed to race in the Sprint Cup series?
Patrick has spent this year getting her feet wet at a host of tracks. Next year could be more of the same.
It’s rare for a driver not to be entered in at least one, two, or several Sprint Cup races before their first full time year.
Patrick’s continuing full time IRL schedule makes it even more difficult for her to be entered into a Sprint Cup event.
There are however, if she follows the same schedule, multiple opportunities for her to race in multiple events in one weekend.
It is actually possible for her to race in a Nationwide event on Friday or Saturday and an IRL event on Sunday, as well as multiple opportunities for her to race in a Nationwide even on Saturday and a Sprint Cup event on Sunday.
There have been several drivers who have raced in an IRL event and a NASCAR event on the same weekend. It has however never proven to be successful.
Patrick’s handlers have no doubt considered these possibilities.
The obvious choices for double duty would be Daytona, where she did a double this year, Charlotte, home of just about every race team, Michigan, where she also runs in the IRL, or one of the two road courses on the NASCAR circuit.
Hot bed tracks like Bristol, Darlington, Richmond, and Martinsville shouldn’t be a consideration for double duty.
There will be a time, however, when Patrick will have to race on these mini miles of mayhem. Maybe her schedule next year is when she takes her first dip into the raging waters of short track stress.
All of this would be much easier if Patrick were not a full time IRL driver. It will also be easier to figure out once NASCAR makes their intentions for the Nationwide series public.
There will be a time when Patrick will have to climb into a Sprint Cup car. It is very doubtful that first time will be mid February, 2012.
Photo Credit: David Yeazell