Patrick taking a look at NASCAR

Published 6:59 pm Friday, July 14, 2006

Danica Patrick loves the thrill and excitement of the Indianapolis 500, the attention and all those fans. She has dreamed of winning the top prize for open-wheel drivers since she was a little girl, a goal that remains unchanged.

But NASCAR features that fervor on a weekly basis with more money and challenges. With only six races left in her contract with Rahal-Letterman Racing, Patrick said Thursday a driver has to look at all the options.

“It’s not a lie that I’m interested. It’s definitely something that I look at because it’s racing. I’m a race car driver. It’s what I do. It’s so big it’s hard to ignore,” Patrick said of NASCAR.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Patrick’s parents were guests of Roush Racing last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway for NASCAR’s Nextel Cup race. Patrick said it was funny that caused such a stir. She went to Phoenix last year and almost got into a stock car before noticing a bunch of photographers nearby.

“Contract time is always interesting, and I’m lucky enough you guys pay attention to what I do. What I’m doing is figuring out what I’m up to for the next couple years of my life. Every decision I make is going to be based on who can get me a car that wins,” Patrick said.

Patrick was patient through her first season on the IndyCar Series, saying all the right things about how tough winning races really is. She won three poles, finished fourth at the Indianapolis 500 — the highest ever by a woman — and had two top five finishes in being named rookie of the year.

Such production mixed with glamorous looks and charisma created “Danica Mania” with endorsements, commercials and magazine spreads, making her the most popular open-wheel driver in the United States. Just mentioning Patrick and NASCAR in the same sentence is enough to start fans pondering how she would match up with Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Patrick said she has watched NASCAR drivers bump and rub cars, something she remembers only too well from her go-cart days when she nudged others out of her way. “It’s beautiful. I do like that. I do like that. Rubbing’s racing like they say, right?” she said.

There’s also the money involved with NASCAR, which is booming and hasn’t had the problems of the open-wheel split that cut into an already diminished fan base and sinking TV ratings and scared away big-money sponsors. Both the IRL and CART-successor Champ series have struggled since, and have recently been negotiating a possible reunification.

The chance to win will be Patrick’s top consideration.

Rahal-Letterman has struggled this season now that everyone in the IndyCar series now has the Honda engines that gave the team an edge in 2005. The team switched from Panoz chassis to Dallara before Texas last month.

She said she understands that Rahal-Letterman really wants her back and is working hard for a contract that will work.