Danica Patrick's move to NASCAR full-time in 2012 is a great thing for both Patrick and the sport.
She is a talented driver and has had a decently successful career in racing (one win in IndyCar competition), but her main asset is that her brand image with the general public is off the charts when compared to other drivers.
Patrick is the most well-known IndyCar driver today. Anyone who has watched the last few Super Bowls (or TV at all) is familiar with her racy GoDaddy.com commercials. It's debatable whether that aspect of Patrick's stardom is good for a sport the styles itself as family-friendly, but it's undeniable that Patrick's move to the Nationwide Series full-time will bring increased exposure to NASCAR.
As far as name recognition among the general public goes, Patrick may be second behind only Dale Earnhardt Jr. in all of American motorsports. The fact that Junior is her boss can only help how NASCAR fans perceive her.
NASCAR prides itself as being the major auto racing series in the United States, and bringing Patrick and her considerable fame to NASCAR will only help strengthen that reality.
Patrick has had both ups and downs in her brief NASCAR career, but her decision to move to NASCAR will help the sport in a time when TV ratings and race attendance have been lagging. The fact that ratings go up when Patrick has participated in Nationwide events has been well-documented.
If Patrick runs as well as she has this year—at one point early this season, she ranked fourth in Nationwide points before switching her focus to IndyCar—interest in the Nationwide Series will certainly rise.
Will Danica ever be a successful driver in NASCAR?
Another reason that Patrick is good for NASCAR is that she's an American driver. Most of the open-wheel stars to come to NASCAR in recent seasons have been foreigners (Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti, for example).
While NASCAR would like to have an increased international profile, the sport and its fans still take pride in being as American as hot dogs, baseball and apple pie.
Meanwhile, most IndyCar stars are foreign (Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, etc.). The series struggles to maintain an American identity, and Patrick is one of its few born-and-bred American stars. The defection of IndyCar's biggest American-born star represents a major coup for NASCAR.
All in all, Danica Patrick's move to NASCAR will be a wonderful thing for the sport. Patrick has shown marked improvement in both her comfort level in stock cars and the actual results on the track, and moving to NASCAR full-time will help her reach new levels of success—and popularity.
And from this point on, Patrick's popularity will be NASCAR's gain.