Danica staying in IRL

BY foxsports • December 15, 2009

Danica Patrick signed a three-year contract extension with Andretti Autosport, a deal that could pave the way for the open-wheel star's desired foray into NASCAR.Danica Patrick unveiled her splashy new car in New York's Times Square, its bright green, black and orange color scheme right at home with the flashy billboards and lights above.

A car with fenders could be next for IndyCar's most marketable star.

Patrick signed a three-year contract extension with Andretti Autosport on Monday, a deal that could pave the way for the open-wheel star's desired foray into NASCAR.

"When there are more races on the schedule, my life almost feels more predictable," Patrick said during a segment on Fox News. "I'd be excited about the challenge. We'll see."

Patrick and team owner Michael Andretti announced the deal with Andretti Autosport during a segment on "Good Morning America," appearing together with her No. 7 GoDaddy.com Dallara-Honda.

The deal reportedly had been in the works for weeks, held up by Patrick's previous sponsorship deal with Motorola and a change in ownership with her team.

Andretti Autosport finished its restructuring last week, changing its name from Andretti Green Racing after Michael Andretti purchased the team from Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, who have taken control of the promotions side of the company.

The IRL deal done, Patrick my be free to turn her attention to a NASCAR ride.

JR Motorsports appears to be the most likely suitor.

A deal to partner her on a limited Nationwide Series schedule with the team owned by Rick Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. reportedly was in the final stages before the IRL deal was signed. There also have been rumors that Patrick will drive a handful of ARCA races.

JR Motorsports already has a sponsorship deal with GoDaddy.com for its No. 88 Chevrolet Nationwide car and announced in September that the Web giant will be the primary sponsor of Mark Martin's No. 5 Sprint Cup car. Earlier Monday, an image of Patrick wearing a race suit with JR Motorsports and Chevy logos reportedly appeared briefly her Web site before being taken down.

"I know everyone wants to know that," Patrick said on Fox News. "I love to drive. I love to race. If I got the chance to run both series, I'd love that. If we were announcing (NASCAR), we'd be here with two cars. We've been working on it."

Patrick signed with the Andretti Autosport before the 2007 season and became the first woman to win an IndyCar Series race at the 2008 Japan Indy 300. She also was the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 (in 2005) and was third there this season on the way to finishing fifth in the IRL season championship.

Patrick's new deal with runs through 2012.

"All of us at Andretti Autosport are looking forward to having Danica back with the team and are excited about working with (CEO) Bob Parsons and everyone at Go Daddy as the primary sponsor on Danica's car," Michael Andretti said in a statement.

The NASCAR season starts in February with the Daytona 500 and the 17-race IRL season begins March 14 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

If Patrick chooses to do both, she'll certainly draw attention from sponsors with her crossover appeal. Some NASCAR drivers have warned about the difficulties of switching to stock cars, though most seem to be in favor of her joining the circuit.

Tony Stewart has won two Sprint Cup championships since leaving open-wheel racing, but Dario Franchitti went back to the IRL after an unsuccessful stint in NASCAR and three-time IndyCar champ Sam Hornish Jr. hasn't sniffed a win since crossing over. Former Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya won a race as a NASCAR rookie, but didn't find consistent success until his third season.

Starting off in the Nationwide series rather than going straight to Sprint Cup might be a way for Patrick to ease that transition.

"I think we'd all welcome her, but I'm really happy for Michael and for his team," said Sprint Cup driver John Andretti, Michael's cousin. "That is great for them and maybe Danica can still try some of this stuff too and see what she thinks."