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Patrick Will Switch IRL Teams

Race driver plans to leave Rahal Letterman next year and join Andretti Green Racing.

July 26, 2006|Jim Peltz | Times Staff Writer

For Danica Patrick, the Indianapolis 500 still trumps NASCAR -- for now.

Patrick, 24, said Tuesday she planned to move to another Indy Racing League team next year, Andretti Green Racing, but will not jump to NASCAR so she can continue in her quest to win the Indy 500. She will be leaving Rahal Letterman Racing, co-owned by 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal and late-night television host David Letterman. In a terse statement, Rahal said, "We wish her the best in her future endeavor."

Patrick shot to stardom last year when she nearly became the first woman to win the Indy 500 -- the centerpiece of the IRL's IndyCar Series -- and the Roscoe, Ill., native has repeatedly said that her main goal was to win that race.

She was rookie of the year in 2005, but has yet to win an IndyCar race after 26 starts.

Patrick said early this month she also was pondering a move to NASCAR, and her father and agent, T.J. Patrick, sounded out some NASCAR teams about their interest in Patrick. But she said then she was likely to stay in the IRL, at least for next year.

"My heart and soul is in IndyCar racing," Patrick said Tuesday in Chicago. "NASCAR is not out for good. It's out for right now."

Andretti Green declined to say whether Patrick signed a multi-year deal or release any terms of her contract.

Andretti Green, co-owned by former IndyCar racer Michael Andretti, has four drivers: Andretti's son Marco, who nearly won this year's Indy 500 as a rookie; former IRL champion Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta of Valencia.

The team says it intends to field four cars again next year, which signaled that Franchitti or Herta -- both in the last year of their contracts -- could be leaving the team after this year. Team spokesman Al Larsen said "we're still continuing to formulate our 2007 plans," but declined to comment about Franchitti or Herta.

Andretti Green has won the series title the last two years, with Kanaan in 2004 and Dan Wheldon in 2005. Wheldon then moved to Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Rahal Letterman has struggled for much of this season, and Patrick was eighth in this year's Indy 500. But she finished fourth in the last two races, in Nashville and Milwaukee. Patrick is ninth in the IRL points standings.

"Danica has shown great talent during her first two seasons in the IndyCar Series," Michael Andretti said in a statement. "She has made it very clear that one of her goals as a driver is to win the Indianapolis 500 and we are looking forward to giving her a great opportunity to do that."

Said Patrick: "I've had a very good run, a very good relationship with Rahal Letterman and Bobby Rahal. He helped me when no one else stepped up. And I will be forever grateful for that. But at some point in time, there's just time for a change, time for something new."

The IndyCar Series' next race is Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

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