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Danica shoots down rumors on 2012

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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INDIANAPOLIS

Despite published reports, Danica Patrick insists that she has not yet decided in which racing series she will compete in 2012.

DRAMA-FILLED DAY

Bump Day for Danica was filled with emotion as Mother Nature nearly kept her out of the race. Watch her day from start to finish.

“There have not been decisions made,” Patrick said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I’ll let you all know when I can and when the time is right. But it’s a long ways away from where we are now.”

The rumors of Patrick’s departure from IndyCar have floated around the NASCAR garages the last few months. The most popular scenario places Patrick with her current team JR Motorsports, the Nationwide Series organization owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., with support from NASCAR juggernaut Hendrick Motorsports. Patrick would race the entire 2012 Nationwide season under the No. 7 Go Daddy Chevrolet banner while running select Sprint Cup races with Stewart Haas Racing to prepare for a jump to running NASCAR’s top tier full time in 2013.

Earnhardt Jr. knows the ball is in Patrick’s court. But like many of the open-wheel drivers that have offered advice to Patrick, he agrees that a full-time run would offer the most consistency.

“We’ll just see what she decides to do,” Earnhardt said. “I think she wants to have more success and doing it all the time would be a good move. She just has to choose what she wants to do. What is right for her. What she thinks she will be happy doing. Just make the right choice for herself, that is what is important.

“She has been racing with us enough to know whether she is ready or not. It is really up to her. It is really not up to anybody else. My opinion on that deal really doesn’t matter. She is the one who knows the truth and she’ll make the decision I think she needs to make and that will be that.”

At 29, she’s enjoying the best of both worlds. Patrick says the response on the NASCAR side has been “positive,” particularly from her fellow competitors.

“I really have to say across the board the drivers have been very helpful,” Patrick said. “Everybody from Aric Almirola, my teammate, Dale Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, himself. I have felt very welcomed from the beginning.”

Time in the stock-car seats and reinforcement from other competitors have expedited Patrick’s learning curve in NASCAR. She’s made tremendous strides in her second partial season on the Nationwide Series and improved significantly at the two tracks where she competed in the past. Her fourth-place finish at Las Vegas was the highest finish for a woman in the series and the first top-five for a female since 1949.

Patrick said it’s “been a relief” to go back to tracks a second time. Her tenure with JRM has given her the opportunity to be “in good equipment” that has given her “a chance to learn”.

“When I went back to Fontana in the Nationwide I thought, I really need to have a better day,” said Patrick, who improved from 31st to 30th in her two Fontana races in 2010. “It’s really important to show that I learned from one time to the next. Fortunately, each time I’ve gone back it really has made a big difference. The most obvious being Vegas — to go back there and finish fourth.

“It just shows how much there is to learn in that series. It really helps to arrive at a weekend when you only get two hours of practice and you can start fast. Instead of changing the car so I can get comfortable and then changing the car back so I can get fast again, you start out with a fast car and you work on that. It just puts you in sync with so many drivers that have been out there for a long time.”

Since 2005, she’s been a regular on IndyCar circuit. The last five seasons have been spent with Andretti Autosport where she won her first race at Motegi, Japan in 2008. While Patrick has been running at the finish in a series-record 37 consecutive races, 2011 has not been her finest season. After the first four races her average finish if 14.8. In Patrick’s defense, together the four Andretti Autosports cars have one top five and two top 10 finishes among them.

The true test will come this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Patrick’s favorite track and where she has finished in the top 10 in five our her six starts. Her best finish on the 2.5-mile oval was third in 2009. However, win or lose on Sunday, Patrick said it won’t effect her decision to remain in the IndyCar Series.

“Winning or not winning the Indy 500 will not play into my decision moving forward,” Patrick said. “To me, this is the best race in the world, and that’s just my feeling on it. So, it won’t influence my future and what I do and don’t do.”

Although Patrick’s contracts are up both in NASCAR and IndyCar she does not have a timetable as to when a decision will be made to renew on either.

“I don’t have a date set when a decision and some kind of announcement is necessary,” Patrick said. There’s no way to know really how quickly or slowly these things come together. It sounds like a cop out but as long as it’s before the season starts next year — no matter what I do — it will allow me to do the kind of testing I need to prepare for the year, that’s all that really matters.”

Marco Andretti joked that he has no inside information where his teammate’s future is going. But his instincts tell him the time has come “to get in the mindset to prepare for life without Danica.”

“If the series doesn’t survive without her…but I see us being stronger than that,” Andretti said. “Maybe it will hurt us because she has a huge fan base, but we’re on a bit of an upswing too. Hopefully, we can keep it just as good as last year.”

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