- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS — Danica Patrick might be preparing for her last Indianapolis 500.

Rumors that Patrick would jump to NASCAR have dogged her for years and even have been acknowledged by IndyCar officials. The 29-year-old, who has driven in IndyCar and the NASCAR Nationwide series this year and last, was vague when asked about her plans Thursday.

“I suppose anything is possible,” she said. “But I know for me, I haven’t made any of those decisions yet.”

Patrick’s success as a female driver has made her the face of the IndyCar Series since 2005, even though she has just one win in 98 tries. The pressure she has put on herself has reached a peak heading into the Indy 500 on May 29.

“Actually, I feel like I get more nervous every year,” she said. “I’m more nervous coming into it this year than last year. Maybe it’s because you’re getting older and on some level you think you have less of them to do, I don’t know.”

Her improved performance in NASCAR has fueled speculation that her IndyCar days might be nearing an end. She struggled last year during her first year of stock car racing, but she qualified fourth and briefly led the Nationwide race at Daytona in February before finishing 14th. The next month, she placed fourth in the Las Vegas Nationwide race, the best finish for a woman in a national NASCAR race. She’ll return to NASCAR for the Nationwide race at New Hampshire in June.

“The NASCAR stuff I’ve done has been good, too,” she said. “Having a fourth at Vegas was great, leading at Daytona in the Nationwide race. So far, it’s been a good year.”

Patrick’s foray into NASCAR was made possible by her success in IndyCar.

After she finished fourth in the 2005 Indianapolis 500, she quickly became a larger-than-life figure in a 5-foot-2, 100-pound frame, the biggest draw in a series that desperately needed a transcendent star.

After she emerged, things changed. Expectations followed. Pressure mounted. She finally won her first race in Japan in 2008, but she began to chafe under the intense scrutiny.

The smile that Patrick once eagerly flashed slowly disappeared. Fits of anger and tiffs with other drivers cropped up and sullied her reputation.

The turn in public opinion culminated when she was booed during Indy 500 qualifying last year after she said during a live interview being piped over the loudspeakers that her team gave her an inadequate car. She decided after that incident that honesty, at least publicly, isn’t always the best policy.

“Hopefully, I’ve gotten more savvy and wise with my personality, my tactics, my antics, as I’ve had some over the years,” she said. “I guess I came to find out as I grew older that being really honest, emotional all the time, while it is me and I don’t regret anything, it makes for work.”

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