SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – With the not-so-subtle shape of a stock car under cover just in front of her and spotlights glaring in her face, Danica Patrick feigned drama for an announcement everyone already knew was coming.
“For breaking news that will shock the world …” she said facetiously on Thursday.
Peeling the lid off the worst-kept secret in auto racing, Patrick ended months of skirting questions about her future by officially declaring her plans to leave IndyCar in 2012 to race a full Nationwide season for JR Motorsports and a part-time Sprint Cup schedule with Stewart-Haas Racing.
One of the most marketable stars in auto racing, Patrick had been rumored to be headed to NASCAR even before she ran her first stock race, the ARCA series event at Daytona in 2010. Even while racing limited Nationwide schedules the past two years for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team, Patrick had deflected talk of her leaving IndyCar.
That all changed, at least officially, when she signed a contract with GoDaddy.com chairman Bob Parsons in front of TV cameras and cheering company employees.
“If it was about money, I’d have gone a long time ago,” Patrick said from GoDaddy’s offices. “I just go where my heart tells me, where my gut tells me to go, where I’m enjoying my life the most, where I feel like I can have the most success. I’ve truly enjoyed my experience in NASCAR, to the point that I want to do it full time.”
Patrick will run most of her races in the lower-tier Nationwide Series with only a handful of Sprint Cup races, but her switch to NASCAR should be a big boost to a sport that’s been hurt by a sagging economy and a dip in popularity from its heyday just a few years back.
With her telegenic looks, mass appeal, not to mention racy Super Bowl ads, Patrick brings something that’s hard to come by: star power.
On the other side of the wheel, Patrick’s decision leaves a big void in IndyCar.