Earlier today it was reported that contract negotiations are in the final stages for Danica Patrick to drive in the Nationwide Series full-time for JR Motorsports in 2012. Patrick's IndyCar contract with Andretti Autosport will expire following the 2011 season, leaving her free to take her fame and marketability to NASCAR.
Following a rough going in her initial foray into NASCAR in 2010, Danica Patrick has picked up the pace considerably in 2011.
After a top Nationwide finish of 19th last season, Patrick has three top-10's in 2011, including a fourth-place result at Las Vegas—the highest-ever finish by a woman in NASCAR competition.
"She's way ahead of the curve," Earnhardt said, noting that Patrick has performed as well as the other drivers of his No. 7 car this year. He was enthusiastic about the trajectory of her NASCAR career: "I'm excited about what the potential is with her going forward."
A week ago I made five predictions about the rest of Danica Patrick's 2011 season. One of them was that she would announce plans to race full-time for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series in 2012, which now appears to be coming true.
How do you feel about Danica moving to NASCAR full-time?
Another of my predictions was that Patrick would announce an informal agreement to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2013 at the Sprint Cup level, and that seems to be part of the plan as well. Reports are that she will drive a limited Cup schedule for SHR in 2012, and if all goes reasonably well, presumably Patrick will be driving a third car for Tony Stewart's team the following year.
JR Motorsports is one of the top Nationwide programs, but it won't be easy for Patrick to find immediate success as a full-time driver. The intensive schedule will take its toll, and there is still much for Patrick to learn about stock car driving.
On the other hand, Patrick will no longer have the distraction of driving different types of cars or the uncertainty about her racing future. With her sights set squarely on NASCAR and racing in the Cup Series, Patrick will now have the focus, the equipment and the talent to succeed.