Danica Patrick is one of the most popular and well-known drivers in motorsports today.
Her NASCAR ventures have gone well in 2011, but questions are swirling surrounding her future plans.
What can we expect from the rest of the GoDaddy driver's 2011 Nationwide schedule? Where will she race in 2012? What are her long term plans?
Here are my predictions for what we can expect to see and hear from Danica Patrick during the remainder of the 2011 season.
I think that Danica Patrick will make an announcement before the end of summer that she'll be driving full-time for JR Motorsports in 2012.
This really is a no-brainer and everyone expects it to happen. Her IndyCar contract is set to expire at the end of the 2011 season, leaving Patrick free to take her marketability to NASCAR.
Danica has run well in the majority of Nationwide races she has raced in this season, with a best finish of fourth in the Las Vegas race in March. The time is right for her to make the jump to NASCAR, and I think she'll make the official announcement before very long.
Danica Patrick scored her first NASCAR top-5 at Las Vegas in March. Since then she's also scored top-10 finishes at both Chicagoland and Daytona.
With six races left on Patrick's Nationwide schedule—Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (Aug. 20), Richmond International Speedway (Sept. 9), Kansas Speedway (Oct. 8), Texas Motor Speedway (Nov. 5), Phoenix International Raceway (Nov. 12) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19)—I believe she will score at least one more top-5 in 2011. She'll need to wait another year for a win, but I believe that will come eventually as well.
As a road-course veteran, Patrick has a chance for a good showing at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. However, her best shot at a top finish is at one of the cookie-cutter tracks (Kansas, Texas and Homestead-Miami). Look for her to reprise her impressive Vegas run at one of those races.
Danica Patrick is one of the most popular figures in motorsports today, perhaps behind only Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the United States. She has a massive fan base, a popular sponsor in GoDaddy.com and the ability to create new fans for NASCAR.
Based on her promising results in Nationwide this season and her desire to reach the Sprint Cup Series, I believe there is a good chance that she and Tony Stewart will announce an informal agreement for Patrick to drive a third Stewart-Haas Racing car in 2013. It has been speculated that Stewart will hold off on expanding SHR until Patrick can fill the seat.
Stewart worked with Patrick in the two-car draft at the Daytona Nationwide race a few weeks ago, showing that the two trust each other, and that he respects her driving abilities. Maybe it's a bit premature now, but I think it's a good bet that speculation about Patrick moving to SHR will continue to grow.
I predict that Danica will end up in a dispute with Kyle Busch on the track at some point this year.
Wouldn't that be fun to watch? Patrick has shown she's not afraid to take off her gloves—quite literally—and take it to an established driver when she believes she's been wronged.
Odds are at some point she will also tangle with Carl Edwards or Brad Keselowski, who regularly compete in the Nationwide series and aren't afraid to mix it up on the track, although their favorite targets seem to be each other.
After announcing her plan to run Nationwide full-time in 2011 and a few more strong runs with JR Motorsports in the No. 7 Chevrolet, why not take a stab at NASCAR's top level to experience firsthand what it's like to race against the best drivers in the world?
The IndyCar season finale is October 16, so there would be plenty of time for Patrick to have a few Cup practice sessions in time for a Cup race late in the season. Hendrick Motorsports' No. 25 car is the most likely ride in which Patrick could make an appearance, especially given the existing relationship between HMS and GoDaddy. The most likely track is probably Homestead-Miami Speedway, the final race on the Cup schedule.
At the very least, it could give race ratings a boost if Jimmie Johnson is running away with the title for a sixth consecutive year.