Reporting from Sonoma, Calif. — Midway through Danica Patrick's experiment to divide her time between IndyCar racing and NASCAR this season, she is struggling in both series.
But the popular driver rejects any notion that the experiment was a mistake, and she has no regrets about driving in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide stock car racing series in and around her full season in the Izod IndyCar Series.
"I learn every weekend [in NASCAR], that's for sure," Patrick said Friday before practicing for Sunday's Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway. "I'm getting more and more comfortable."
Indeed, Patrick plans to repeat the experiment next year. "I don't know if the exact schedule will be the same [in 2011], but there will be Nationwide races and there will be a full IndyCar season," she said.
Patrick, 28, became a huge star after nearly winning the Indy 500 in 2005, has modeled in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, appeared in TV ads during the Super Bowl and is a major draw for racing sponsors.
However, her popularity hasn't helped her performance on the track this season.
Now in her sixth IndyCar season, Patrick is 11th in the driver point standings through 12 races with her Andretti Autosport team. Her best finish, second, came at Texas Motor Speedway, with sixth-place finishes at Indianapolis and on the street course in Toronto. In 2009, she was fifth in IndyCar point standings for the season.
Although the entire Andretti team has struggled at times this year, Patrick said her finishes also reflect stiff competition and poor racing luck. Last year, she said, "we caught a lot of breaks and nailed the pit strategies. This year I've passed a lot more cars but it's so tight … everybody's finishing and we're not catching the breaks."
Patrick's only IndyCar win came at the Twin Ring Motegi track in Japan in 2008 — that was 43 races ago — and Motegi also is one of four races left this year after Sunday's Sonoma race. All four are on oval tracks, while Infineon is a twisty road course.
"I'd really love to win one" of the remaining races, Patrick said. "I think we've definitely got a chance," although she acknowledged that the "Penske and Ganassi [teams] are very strong on the ovals."
Penske's drivers include series points leader Will Power and Helio Castroneves, and Ganassi's include reigning series champ Dario Franchitti and two-time title winner Scott Dixon.
Meanwhile, Patrick last weekend finished 27th at Michigan in the sixth of 13 NASCAR Nationwide races she plans to drive in this year, and her best NASCAR finish so far was 24th at Chicagoland Speedway last month.
Patrick said an immediate goal in NASCAR is to stay on the same lap as the leaders. That means having her JR Motorsports Chevrolet set up correctly to suit the track and Patrick and not waiting until the race unfolds to make major adjustments. Otherwise, she must let the leaders pass by.
"I just don't want to get in anyone's way," she said. "When guys like Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick and [ Joey] Logano are coming, I don't want to make them mad….
"If I just could maintain that first run and get to the first yellow [flag] or first [pit] stop [without going one lap down], I think I could have much, much better finishes," Patrick said.