Feud of the Week: Danica vs. Indy 500

UPDATE See related rumor that says Danica is going NASCAR fulltime in 2012. She's either going to NASCAR for the money (chances are she will be a backmarker there as well) or running because IndyCar now has other female drivers that are outrunning her using inferior equipment and its only damaging her money-making image.

05/24/11 Danica Patrick is supposed to be the IndyCar Series’ biggest star. But after nearly failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, she has to be wondering about her chances of one day winning the circuit’s biggest event.

The 29-year-old driver, who is mixing 12 NASCAR Nationwide Series races this year into her full-time IndyCar schedule, almost didn’t make the Indy 500. Two of her teammates in the five-car Andretti Autosport stable did not qualify for the race.

Patrick ended up qualifying with about an hour left Sunday in the rain-interrupted final day of qualifying. She was too slow on the first day to make the field and then a technical inspection issue knocked her to the rear of the line on Sunday. If more rain had come, she wouldn’t have made the race.

That would have been devastating for Patrick, who makes no secret of her love of Indianapolis Motor Speedway – a love that could keep her from committing to NASCAR full time in 2012.

Patrick has an option on her IndyCar contract for next year and could continue to run the full IndyCar schedule while also running a dozen or so NASCAR events for JR Motorsports.

Or she could give up on her IndyCar dreams and move to NASCAR full-time, perhaps leaping to the Sprint Cup Series.

Or she could bag the NASCAR experiment altogether and go back to focusing full-time on IndyCar.

She will listen to her gut and her heart – and possibly her purse – in making one of the biggest decisions of her career sometime this year.

Will her struggles at Indy so far this year play into that decision? If she believes she has no chance to win the Indy 500 with her current team, could she give up on that dream – at least for now – and turn her full attention to NASCAR?

Could she stand missing the Indy 500 in order to run NASCAR’s Cola-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend?

The decision she must make is what makes the Indy 500 on Sunday so important for Patrick’s future.

If she struggles again in the race on Sunday, how will that play into her decision? Is it worth committing to IndyCar if she believes her team might struggle at Indy again next year?

On the other hand, could she leave IndyCar racing knowing that her last Indy 500 effort was a disappointment?

The race on Sunday could either frustrate her or motivate her – or both. A disappointing Indy 500 could make her more determined than ever to win at Indy. Or it could sour her on open-wheel racing in general and steer her toward NASCAR.

Patrick has had a better start in NASCAR this year than in her first try a year ago. Her fourth-place finish in the Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas shows great potential. And she clearly is having more fun in the stock car world as she becomes more comfortable and runs better.

She could have plenty of options in NASCAR and plenty of sponsors to back her if she decides to make the move full time.

Many believe she’s already made the decision and is headed to NASCAR. But Patrick indicated last week that she hasn’t. And it likely has to do with her dream of winning at Indy.

This was her reaction after her struggles over the weekend:

“I've always said that this place is its own person," Patrick said. “It reads you when you're nervous. It reads you when you're not confident. It throws a lot at you, but that's why this is the greatest race track in the world."

Earlier in the week, she stressed how important this race is to her in her career:

“So many people have that story as to how they could have maybe won the Indy 500, which is, for me, the ultimate goal," she said. “I would imagine for a lot of people it's the ultimate goal. It's definitely high up on the list.

“I just love this event. So I don't know where the future is going to take me, but I know those things."

Could Patrick give up one of the loves of her life to race stock cars? That’s the decision she will have to wrestle with.

And what happens on Sunday could make that decision much easier or much more difficult. Scenedaily.com

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