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MOTOR RACING

Danica Patrick rejects notion she can't compete in NASCAR

Patrick, whose IndyCar Series contract expires after this season, says she believes in her ability to drive the bulkier and heavier stock cars used in the Sprint Cup Series.

July 18, 2009|Jim Peltz

Danica Patrick on Friday rejected skeptics who say she is incapable of switching from driving lighter, aerodynamic Indy cars to the much bulkier and heavier stock cars used on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Patrick, 27, is in the last year of her contract with the IndyCar team Andretti Green Racing and is evaluating options for next season.

Patrick last year became the first woman to win a major U.S.-sanctioned open-wheel race when she won the IndyCar race at Motegi, Japan.

She already had become a major sports figure after nearly winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2005, her rookie year. Now the IndyCar Series' most popular driver, she finished third in this year's Indy 500.

During a visit to Los Angeles to attend the ESPY Awards, Patrick also talked about her recent visit to Tony Stewart's NASCAR shop, the prospects of her moving to the Formula One series and other topics in a question-and-answer session:

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It's been suggested that you're not capable of driving a 3,400-pound Sprint Cup Series stock car competitively, especially in 36 races on NASCAR's various kinds of tracks. Do you reject that notion?

"Of course I do, because I believe in my ability. Any time I've been tested and put in a car, in something I've never driven before. . . . I've always done really well. It's going to take some getting used to. But I can't make everyone think I'm a good driver.

"I used to be more intimidated by the length of the season, but I spend so very little time at home and I am always on the road. I'm much less intimidated by that."

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Would you want to be in a Cup car from the start, or would you be willing to drive a few races in NASCAR's secondary series?

"Probably a while ago when I started thinking about the future a little bit and what I was going to have a look at . . . I definitely thought you'd go straight from the top of one sport to the next. But in [listening to] people's advice and what they think is right, they say take your time and they say you need to start a little slower than that. People want me to do well, if I ever do it, if I get to Cup.

"At some point you have to stop being naive and stop being stubborn and listen to people, so if that's the route I go, I would be open to doing some lower-formula stuff. I would take that advice."

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You recently visited the shop of NASCAR Cup team Stewart-Haas Racing. What was your impression?

"It was interesting. Tony, I actually ran with him at the 24 Hours of Daytona a couple of years ago. He's a really cool guy. I saw him this past Phoenix [race] and talked to him a little bit. A guy like Tony has done it, he went from IndyCar to NASCAR, and he's been the most successful one."

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Were you there primarily to see what the place looked like?

"We're just at the point where people had never met me before. I have been very withdrawn and uninvolved in most everything about what's going on in the negotiations, about the expiration [of her contract]. Not only have I chosen to be that way, because I trust the people around me, but the people around me tell me to do that too. They're like, 'Let us do the work; let us figure everything out.' But at some point these people still want to meet you and see what you're even like in person."

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Do you expect to see more Cup headquarters this summer?

"No, I don't know. It depends on where things go. As I said, I'm not extremely involved."

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This wasn't the first of a list of Cup headquarters you wanted to visit?

"No, this was just an opportunity to swing by and get some advice if there was any to be had."

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What was the main advice Tony gave you?

"Just like anybody else, it's about taking it slow, it's about making sure you learn your way."

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Have you at least narrowed down the series where you would drive next year?

"I'd say it's probably not F1."

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You don't have any interest in this new U.S. team being formed for F1?

"Not really, and the fact that to my knowledge they've never called.

"I've had opportunities to take it a step further with Formula One, and I don't want to lead anyone down a path. It's not in my heart to go there. I've explored Europe before. I particularly like to be here and I like my family and I like my friends and I like my creature comforts of my home country."

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Has the IndyCar Series urged you in any way to stay put?

"Yeah, I'm told, of course, that we want you here. But we'll see. At the end of the day I've got to go with my gut about what I want to do."

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There has been speculation that Chip Ganassi's team is interested in you, and it has cars in both IndyCar and NASCAR. Does that hold extra appeal for you?

"That's stuff, too, that my agents are thinking more about. I already drive for a great team, so I need to be on a great team no matter what I do.

"At the end of the day the team has to make sense, the deal's got to make sense, the progression has to make sense. I might race IndyCar and never go to NASCAR at all. I'm not really sure right now. We'll see."

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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