Will she or won't she remains one of the biggest stories in racing
Danica Patrick seems amused at some of the reporting regarding her career path
Team owner Michael Andretti is supportive if she wants to moonlight in NASCAR
Tim Cindric of Penske says running both series is doable but would be challenging
Tantalizing pseudofacts and unsourced assertions continue to drive the Danica Patrick-to-NASCAR storyline, and until a deal is completed with some stock car team -- reportedly JR Motorsports -- the Izod IndyCar Series' most recognizable driver and media dynamo seems content with incrementally working though her to-do list.
But even in those tasks, in the void of solid facts, come intrigue. A much-anticipated press conference on Monday revealed GoDaddy.com as her new IndyCar sponsor after a new contract had been completed to assure her return to open wheel team Andretti Autosport. But the guaranteed portion of that contract expires after the 2011 season, team-owner Michael Andretti said, coinciding with Mark Martin's next-and-presumably-last retirement from the No. 5 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports, which has a sponsorship deal with GoDaddy and a Nationwide Series alliance with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports.
Andretti said Patrick's new deal includes a "joint" option for a third year. She could have made a lot of future career decisions by then, including remaining in the series that helped launch her to mainstream stardom.
While admitting her curiosity about NASCAR, Patrick did nothing during a national teleconference on Tuesday to suggest that a deal with any stock car team is close, and seemed amused at some of the reporting surrounding her decision and career path, but an image of her wearing what appears to be a JR Motorsports firesuit appeared briefly -- before vanishing into the cyberether -- earlier this week.
Patrick, who finished a career-best fifth in the driver standings and was third in the Indianapolis 500 this season, asserted her commitment to Andretti and open wheel racing, saying that any stock car experiments would be conducted either before or after the IndyCar season. At that rate she may be able to determine if she enjoys stock car racing, but would likely not be ready to compete at a high level, if recent history applies.
Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said Patrick would be expected to require three seasons of full-time stock car racing to transition from IndyCars. Juan Pablo Montoya, who converted from Formula One in 2006 and finished eighth in Sprint Cup points this season, provided the template. Dario Franchitti, who lasted one abridged Sprint Cup season before returning to win the IRL championship this year, became the cautionary tale.
"You have to have the patience to see it through," Cindric said. "The best example of that seems to be Montoya. Franchitti, in that situation, didn't have the patience to see that through. He had the talent, but it's a difficult transition. It's almost better if they didn't have open-wheel experience. It's a difficult thing to unlearn and then learn."
Patrick has insisted she is willing to begin her stock car career in lower-level series, presumably ARCA, and progress though Nationwide and to Sprint Cup when ready.
Patrick's IndyCar team-owner voiced support for Patrick's exploration of a stock car challenge in a national teleconference on Tuesday, saying he was cognizant of but not disconcerted by the prospect of his most marketable driver dabbling in a new regimen with a different organization outside of his oversight.
"I guess it's always a concern for sure, but having said that, I also support her, and if she wants to try it, because first and foremost, she is a race car driver, and I've been there," Andretti said. "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.
"But the goal will be we'll have to work the programs to make sure that the IndyCar is still her main focus because the main goal is to win Indianapolis and the championship with Danica. And I think we have a good shot at it. We want to make sure that it still is going to be the main focus."
Patrick concurred, adding: "IndyCar is always going to be the focus, if the other series were to happen."
The exploration and the eventual transition was less complicated for three-time IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr., who began a move from Team Penske's open wheel to NASCAR programs in 2006. He finished 28th in his second Cup season in 2009.
"I think the first focus [for Andretti] is you would have to make sure there are clear lines of delineation between her responsibilities in the Cup team or NASCAR or ARCA, or what-have-you teams, and the IndyCar program," Cindric said, "and at some point somebody is going to have to break the tie. In our arrangement, I had oversight over both programs and I could decide in between [team owner] Roger [Penske] and I what the best compromises were, and we could work it out with Sam. There will be different challenges and some give-and-take there in the way things are structured, both on-track and off, but if it's structured properly, it can be done. If she has good people looking after her, then it should be able take care of itself, but there will be some challenges."
BUSCH CREW CHIEF: Cindric said the organization hoped to decide on a new crew chief for Kurt Busch within the next two weeks. He confirmed that Steve Addington, former crew chief for Busch's younger brother, Kyle, is among the final "two or three" candidates.
"He's certainly somebody that has good experience," Cindric said of Addington, who won 12 races with Kyle Busch but was replaced this fall amid a disappointing campaign. "We'd be crazy not to talk to him."
Penske is mulling at least two internal candidates as a replacement for Pat Tryson, who is leaving to run Martin Truex Jr.'s program at Michael Waltrip Racing.
SPEED UP, SLOW DOWN: Veteran barnstormer John Andretti said he is virtually certain to make another attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in May but said the demands of a NASCAR schedule have brought him to a crossroads in his 22-year career.
Andretti, the 46-year-old nephew of legend Mario Andretti, competed in 34 Sprint Cup events, finishing 36th in points, in 2009. He placed 19th for Richard Petty Motorsports in his 10th Indy 500.
"I'm kind of at a stage in my life where I want to enjoy everything, my family," said Andretti, who has won national series races in stock, sports, open wheel and drag racing cars. "This last year has been pretty taxing on me because I am gone all the time. So I need to really dig deep to see if I want to do it again. I enjoy the team I am with, I like the owner, and that's really what got me to do this [in 2009]. The Indianapolis 500, I would say just go ahead and write that in, but I don't know if I can go on the road and do 34 races. I am not young, but I am compared to Mark Martin, and I enjoy doing it, so it's tough."