Danica Patrick says she hopes to achieve top-15 finishes in her second partial season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, while she has yet to decide whether she will pursue a full-time career in stock cars in 2012.
The IZOD IndyCar Series regular will kick off her racing season next week with the first of a planned 12 NASCAR events, competing for a second time at Daytona, scene of her debut in the second-tier series last year. This year she is set to race again at six of the tracks where she competed last year, while four new venues, including the road course in Montreal, will complete her Nationwide series calendar.
Patrick hopes this year she can achieve the goals that she could not in 2010, when her best finish was a 19th place on her final outing of the season at Homestead, where she had qualified in fifth place.
"Last year [the goal] was top-15s and since I didn't achieve that, I'd say that's a good starting point for this year," Patrick said. "I was really happy with the last race qualifying [of 2010] so I hope I'm able to continue that and start farther up.
"That's a good goal and [so is] finishing on the lead lap, those kinds of things. I still have a lot of the same goals, so I hope to achieve those on a consistent basis and then make new ones."
The JR Motorsports racer believes she has already proved competitive at times in 2010, but reckons she is still short of stock car experience. She suggests it would still be too soon to judge her NASCAR transition at the end of this year, as by then even adding all her NASCAR outings, she would not have run enough races to complete a full Nationwide series season.
"I believe that there were a few times last year when I was relatively competitive," said Patrick. "Unfortunately, the results don't show that. It's very difficult for me to say at which point in time I should be running up front every weekend – I don't know.
"At the end of the season, with another dozen races under my belt I still will have only achieved about two-thirds of a Nationwide season. Usually at least people get one season to figure it out but it would take three seasons of what I'm doing to get to a full season of Nationwide and obviously that's quite spread out, too."
This year Patrick faces the decision of whether to pursue a full-time move to NASCAR in 2012 or keep her focus on the IndyCar Series. When asked about her plans for the future, she said it was still too soon to talk about the subject.
"At this point in time it is only February, so we haven't started the NASCAR season or the IndyCar season," she said. "I think it's about getting through this year. I'm sure silly season will come toward the later part of the year, but until then I'm just going to make the most of every weekend and that's it; that's all I can do...
"There are always certain negotiation periods that are allowed in your contract, so at this point, I don't know."
NASCAR veteran Mark Martin called on critics of Patrick's NASCAR performances to back off, noting that seat time is especially critical for racers coming from other disciplines.
“You know, it's not so much of where you can slide these cars, because you can slide these cars pretty much at some places and not so much in other places – and if you think you are at one of the places where you can, and you do and it's not, then it's not so good," Martin noted. "So, you have to learn these things through driving them – and one thing that you need to take notice of is that she has not wadded-up any racecars. How many newcomers come in and don't? You know? So give her a break. She is really up against a lot."