Patrick to leave IndyCar behind for NASCAR

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But for all the successes IndyCar has had, Patrick is still possibly the sport’s biggest star _ certainly it’s most recognizable _ and losing her will likely put a dent in the sport’s momentum.

Danica has always been a great ambassador for IndyCar, and there is no doubt she has left a positive impression on our sport,” Bernard said in a statement.

“She has touched millions of fans and many that were new to motorsports. Danica attracted a fan base that every athlete and sports property in the world would love to have. We should give her a great farewell the rest of this season as she opens a new page in her career and wish her continued success with her new direction.”

Patrick has run 20 races in two years with JR Motorsports and has five more on the schedule this season. She plans to run between eight and 10 Sprint Cup races with Stewart-Haas, with an eye on a full season in 2013.

Patrick would like to race at the Daytona 500, though the team hasn’t mapped out where she’ll start or which races will fill out the schedule this year, and didn’t rule out another run at the Indianapolis 500 _ even after Andretti Autosport announced it had reached a mutual agreement to part ways with her after the 2011 season.

“We’re thrilled with Danica Patrick’s decision to join us for the 2012 season and looking forward to seeing her behind the wheel of a NASCAR Nationwide Series car on a consistent basis,” said Matt Jauchius, chief marketing and strategy officer for Nationwide Insurance. “Her presence will continue to make our Series stronger and more competitive. She has proven to raise awareness levels of our sport, sponsors and competitors; and that’s good for everyone involved.”

Patrick will leave IndyCar after a decent run.

She became the first woman to win an IndyCar race at Japan in 2008 and was the first to lead the Indy 500, when she did it in 2005 _ the same year she earned the pole at Kansas. Patrick also had a high finish of third at the Brickyard in 2009 on her to way to a career-best fifth in the season standings.

Patrick is 12th in the IndyCar standings, with seven top-10 finishes.

“The thing you see in Danica right away is how determined she is to be good at what she does,” Stewart-Haas owner Tony Stewart said. “She’s very dedicated to taking the time and effort to make the transition from Indy cars to stock cars. She has talent, she has the right mindset, and she has the proper drive and determination. It doesn’t matter who it is you’re looking for, those are the key attributes that you look for in a driver, and Danica’s got them.”

Patrick had a sharp learning curve when she first started racing stock cars, but has gained ground this year.

After that first ARCA race at Daytona, she struggled with the nuances of the Nationwide car, her best finish a 19th at Homestead with an average finish of 28th.

Patrick has been much smoother this season, posting three top-10 finishes, with a career-best of fourth at Las Vegas _ the best finish by a woman at a national NASCAR race. She’s made good progress as a part-time driver and expects to get better with a full-time shot.

“I feel like in the last year, I’ve really come around much more on the track and the top-10s are happening much more frequently,” Patrick said. “I feel like I’m getting it more and more all the time. I still have a lot to learn, that’s for sure, but I really feel confident that I can be successful in the future.”

There’s no turning back now that the secret’s officially out.

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