Danica Patrick insists that the IndyCar Series will remain her priority in 2010, even though she is still working on a parallel NASCAR program.
Yesterday, Andretti Autosport confirmed that it had signed a three-year contract extension with Patrick, but she is also discussing potential deals with NASCAR teams with a view to exploring stock car racing around her IndyCar commitments. In a conference call today, Patrick expressed confidence that her interest in NASCAR will not detract from her IndyCar efforts next season.
"I've been lucky enough to come close a few times to winning the Indy 500, and that is a serious goal of mine," she said. "IndyCar is always going to be the focus, if the other series were to happen. I'm curious about NASCAR, but curious doesn't mean I want to jump in with both feet, and I still love IndyCar racing and where I'm at and the team that I'm with."
She hopes to be able to fit in some stock car races before and after the IndyCar season, which runs from mid-March to early October next year, but said her new Andretti deal did not include any specific limitations on how much she could race elsewhere.
"It's not necessarily an event amount that I'm limited to, but the focus would be to run before and after the IndyCar season," Patrick explained. "That's the best opportunity."
Patrick is not concerned that she has yet to finalize a NASCAR deal even though its 2010 calendar commences in two months.
"I think we still have time," she said. "February is when they start, so there's not as much time as there is for an IndyCar season, but there's still time. Even if things go until the last minute, there's still a little bit of time left."
She also confirmed that she intends to start in one of NASCAR's feeder series, such as ARCA's Re/Max Series or NASCAR Nationwide, rather than immediately attempting to jump into Sprint Cup cars.
"In all of the talks over the summer, in meeting with people, there was a lot of emphasis on learning, so I'd be very prepared to start small and grow and really learn the cars," said Patrick. "So, if it were to happen, I would be open to all suggestions."
Patrick added that she had been approached by NASCAR teams in the past, but had only recently become seriously interested in the category.
"It's come up in the past to run NASCAR, and my heart wasn't there. I didn't want to at all. I wasn't really curious," she said. "And, trust me, there were financial reasons why it would have been a much better idea [than staying in IndyCar].
"I've always thought that the most important thing for me in my career is that I go with my gut and I go with what I want and not worry about the rest. And so now my curiosity is there and I'd like to just try it, and I'd like to see how I get on with the cars.
"I just think the racing looks fun. I enjoy IndyCar racing through and through, but I mostly enjoy the oval racing. I think that when you have wheel-to-wheel racing all day, it's challenging. Don't get me wrong, it's very stressful, but it's a lot of fun at the same time, and [NASCAR] has a lot of that."
Her IndyCar team boss Michael Andretti said he understood Patrick's curiosity about NASCAR and was keen to support her while ensuring it did not interfere with her current career.
"You always want to challenge yourself. For her to go and give it a try, I don't want to get in her way if she really wants to do that," said Andretti. "But we'll have to work the programs to make sure that IndyCar is still her main focus, because still the main goal is to win Indianapolis and the championship with Danica. And I think we have a good shot at it."