Special to Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
Danica Patrick, one of the most famous female athletes in the United States, has a new full-time home: NASCAR.
Patrick confirmed her move from the IndyCar Series to NASCAR in an announcement Thursday at the headquarters of her racing sponsor, GoDaddy.com.
The 29-year-old driver, who has competed in 20 Nationwide Series events for JR Motorsports since the start of 2010, will drive in the Nationwide Series for JRM in 2012.
She also will compete in about 8-10 Sprint Cup events for Stewart-Haas Racing next year. She said her goal for 2013 is a full-time Sprint Cup ride, but that - as well as whether she will compete in the 2012 Daytona 500 - is still to be determined.
"I'm very excited to finally say it," Patrick said. "From the first time I got out of the car in the ARCA race at Daytona (in 2010), it was the most fun I ever had in a race car. It probably had to do with the bumping, but it was the most fun I ever had in a car and I think that really started it all and it went from there.
"I'm excited to start the next chapter. ... I'm ready to go."
Patrick is the third-highest paid female athlete, according to Forbes, with estimated earnings of $12 million annually.
"There is no doubt in my mind that she's putting 100 percent into it (when she's here)," Stewart said earlier this year. "You talk to her on the weekends, ... she's got really good questions. She's not just asking questions to ask questions. She's asking very smart questions and you can tell she's not doing this just to do it."
Apparently open-wheel racing is where she no longer wants to be. Patrick has competed in the IndyCar Series since 2005. She is the only female to win in the series (Japan, 2008) and the only female to lead a lap in the Indianapolis 500.
Her best points finish was fifth in 2009. Driving for Andretti Autosport, she is 13th with four races left in the 2011 season.
She will make this season her last on the IndyCar side for the foreseeable future. She will take the full plunge into NASCAR, where her fourth-place finish in the Nationwide race at Las Vegas earlier this year is the best finish for a female in a NASCAR national stock-car series.
"We are pleased Danica Patrick has chosen to race full time in NASCAR in 2012," NASCAR chairman Brian France said in a statement. "She has demonstrated a strong desire to compete and NASCAR provides the best opportunity to race against the top drivers in the world with the largest and most loyal fan base in motorsports on a week-to-week basis.
"Danica has shown solid improvement in NASCAR and we believe her decision to run full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, with additional races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will be exciting for our fans and a great challenge for her."
Prior to 2010, Patrick had no stock car experience. She had no top-10s in 13 Nationwide starts in 2010 and has one top-five and three top-10s in seven starts this year. She has five more Nationwide Series races left on her 2011 schedule.
"She seems to really enjoy driving stock cars and racing in the Nationwide Series," JRM co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said earlier this year. "I'm excited about what the potential is with her going forward. I'm really excited about that."
Earnhardt Jr. said her team has enjoyed working with her as well.
"She seems like she's fun to work with-no matter whether you're man or woman, people have got to be able to get along with you and you've got to be able to be a people person and manage people and manage relationships," he said.
"She seems to do a great job of that, and I think we look forward to the future races."
Stewart is looking forward to having her on his team, which will start a third car for Patrick.
"We're very excited to have Danica Patrick and GoDaddy join Stewart-Haas Racing in 2012 for a limited NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule with the intention of us running her full-time in Sprint Cup in 2013," Stewart said.
"We're proud of the fact she wants to come and be a part of Stewart-Haas Racing and what we've built with Ryan Newman and myself and all of our partners. Having Danica and Go Daddy as a combination at SHR is something we're really looking forward to."