CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Danica Patrick could still run the Indianapolis 500 even if she makes a full-time move to NASCAR, The Associated Press has learned.
Two people familiar with Patrick’s 2012 plans said she is in the final stages of a deal to run a full-time Nationwide Series schedule with JR Motorsports and limited Sprint Cup Series races with the team owned by two-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart. The people spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because the deal won’t be finished until she has secured a release from Andretti Autosport.
The talks also include her continuing to run the Indianapolis 500, one person told AP.
JR Motorsports co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said last weekend he wants Patrick to run a full Nationwide schedule with his team. She has driven 19 Nationwide races for his team over the last two seasons and has six more scheduled starts this year.
“I would like for her to run fulltime, and I’m sure she is considering that, and I think she would enjoy it,” Earnhardt said at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I feel confident that she’s content where she is and happy with what we’re doing. I think things are looking positive for us to put something together.”
Earlier this year, Stewart said he would love to work with Patrick but only in the Sprint Cup Series. He has wanted to expand his two-car Stewart-Haas Racing organization but had no interest in fielding a Nationwide car.
“Anybody that’s got a Cup team that would have the availability would jump at the chance to do something with her,” Stewart said in May. “You would be crazy not to entertain an offer like that and an opportunity for her to drive a race car for you.”
The potential to continue to race the Indianapolis 500 is a new wrinkle, considering JRM co-owner Kelley Earnhardt has said that it would be difficult for Patrick to run that race and compete for the Nationwide championship.
Running the Indy 500 requires drivers to spend most of the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and NASCAR this year ran three Nationwide races during that span.
Patrick finished third in the 2009 Indy 500, the highest finish for a woman in open-wheel’s most prestigious race. She has one career victory in IndyCar and currently is ranked 11th in the series standings. In 109 career starts, she has three poles and 20 top-5s.
Although she’s winless in 19 career Nationwide races, she flirted with victory last month at Daytona, leading 13 laps before the last-lap chaos dropped her to a 10th-place finish.
“She’s way ahead of the curve,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve had the opportunity to put several drivers in that car, and her performance is right on par with all those drivers. We started out struggling and she had a steep, steep climb to go and she’s really come a long way. I’m excited about what the potential is with her going forward.”