Reports emerged on Tuesday evening that Danica Patrick is close to finalising a deal that will see her leave IndyCar for a full season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2012.
According to ESPN
, sources say that the deal would also include a few Sprint Cup race appearances, with the intention that this would lead on to a full time move to NASCAR's top series in 2013.
An unexpected additional detail additionally suggests that the deal would also be structured to allow Danica to compete in the 2012 Indianapolis 500, when many observers had been assuming that this would be her last appearance at the racetrack that arguably made her name and launched her stardom.
Danica has been beset with questions about her future in IndyCar at almost every turn during the Month of May at Indianapolis, and her unwillingness to give a firm assurance of staying in the series - or whether she would return to the Indianapolis 500 in 2012 - had been taken by many as tacit confirmation that her ambitions now lay in NASCAR.
"Anything is possible," she had said under media questioning. "I haven't made any of those decisions yet."
Danica appeared in 13 Nationwide races in 2010 and has competed in seven Nationwide races so far this season before the start of the IndyCar season; her best result to date has been fourth at Las Vegas in March. She is scheduled to complete at least five more before the end of the year, in what was always assumed to be a "primer" for a full time switch when her contract with Andretti Autosport expires at the end of this season.
The details reported by ESPN
suggest that Danica is planning the same strategy of a phased introduction into Sprint Cup in 2012 before going full time in 2013.
It's unknown at this time which team Danica might be in negotiations with. She currently races for JR Motorsports which is owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. working in association with Hendrick Motorsports, the Sprint Cup team for which Earnhardt Jr. drives, but her contract with Dale also ends after 2011 making her a completely free agent.
Her sponsor, Go-Daddy.com, already fund both her IndyCar and Nationwide cars and this funding is expected to go with her to NASCAR in 2011. The company also funds Mark Martin in the #5 Sprint Cup entry, but he is due to step down from Hendrick Motorsports and may not be continuing full time in the series.
Martin is due to be replaced at Hendrick by Kasey Kahne, and the team also field Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. putting them at the limit of four, making it problematic for her to appear in races for that team in 2012.