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Andretti: Patrick still doesn't have NASCAR deal

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

Danica Patrick has a rough sketch of what her NASCAR schedule would look like. She has an idea of what series to start in. Her IndyCar owner is onboard.

Now all the popular driver needs is a car to race.

Speaking with owner Michael Andretti during a teleconference on Tuesday, Patrick said she still doesn't have a NASCAR deal in place. A photo on Patrick's Web site showing her wearing a NASCAR fire suit -- a picture that was quickly taken down -- suggests something might be in the works, but nothing has been announced yet.

"We've been working this and talking to people since summer," she said. "We are serious about this. Whether it comes together or not, we won't know. But there's no contract and there's no deal right now. As I've said, if I can do both I would like to do that."

Patrick said later in the day at the Motorsports Marketing Forum in Las Vegas that she met with various teams and owners in Charlotte, N.C., and was "starting to work a little harder with certain people."

"It's just complicated," the 27-year-old driver said. "Sponsors usually get the best of the complications of things because there's a lot of them -- which is a good problem -- but it's complicated."

Patrick cleared one major hurdle in securing a NASCAR deal by signing a three-year contract extension -- two years with a mutual option -- with Andretti Autosport on Monday.

That same day, a photo of her wearing a racing suit with a JR Motorsports and other NASCAR-related logos showed up on her Web site before quickly being removed. Patrick reportedly has a deal in the works to drive a limited Nationwide schedule for JR Motorsports, a team owned by Rick Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

So far, though, no word.

What Patrick apparently does have is a plan.

She's already talked to Andretti about what her schedule might look like, with most of the NASCAR racing coming before and after the IndyCar season.

"Yes, we did work that out," Patrick said during the teleconference. "The primary focus is IndyCar and the Indy 500, but in and around that there is opportunity to drive the (stock) car as well."

Patrick also has an idea of where she might start in NASCAR.

As appealing as it might be to jump into a Sprint Cup car -- not to mention financially lucrative -- she understands it might not make the most sense. Starting off with a few ARCA races or in the Nationwide series would give her a chance to get a feel for stock cars, adjust to what's expected to be a sharp learning curve without the glare of Sprint Cup's bright spotlight.

"In all the talks over the summer and meeting with people, there was a lot of emphasis on learning," Patrick said. "So I'd be prepared to start small and grow and really learn the cars. If it were to happen, I'd be open to all suggestions."

Patrick said at the forum that she was surprised when other drivers advised her to take it slow and not jump straight into Sprint Cup races.

"Most people were like, 'No, no, no, no, no. We won't even do it. We want you to be successful and you're not going to do that by jumping in the deep end,"' Patrick said.

Patrick said it would be hard to measure herself against other drivers who have moved to NASCAR because they haven't driven for top teams.

"None of the guys that have transitioned over from open-wheel racing to NASCAR have gone and driven for Hendrick or Roush or you know, any of the top teams, so I think it's hard to judge them totally," she said. "But I think it also sets the standard that it's complicated and it's tough and there's a lot to learn."

She has the green light from her owner.

Andretti started his career in CART, tried his hand at Formula One, then came back to CART before becoming a team owner. He knows what it's like for a driver to want new challenges.

"For her to go out there and really give it a try, I don't want to get in her way if she wants to do that," said Andretti, who recently purchased sole ownership of Andretti Autosport from Kim Green and Kevin Savoree.

"We'll have to work the programs to make sure the IndyCar is still her main focus because the main goal is still to win Indianapolis and win the championship with Danica, and I think we have a good shot at it."

What Patrick may not have is a lot of time.

She's set for the IRL season, which doesn't begin until March 14 in Brazil. The NASCAR season starts in February, at Daytona. To have a NASCAR program ready in time, she'll likely have to get started soon.

"I think we still have time," she said. "Obviously, it's February when they (NASCAR) start, so there's not as much time as there is for an IndyCar season, but there's still time. Even if things go until the last minute, there's a little bit of time left."

Everything else seems to be in place.