Danica Patrick looks at a scoreboard displaying her time during qualifying. (Paul Connors / Associated…)
AVONDALE, Ariz. — Before climbing into her car to practice Friday, Danica Patrick talked about how she'll again appear in Super Bowl ads in February for her main racing sponsor, GoDaddy.com.
"It is a big deal" because the ads provide "amazing exposure for me as a brand," Patrick said.
Indeed, the popular Patrick has made a lucrative career melding her race-car driving with her sexy "brand" as a sports celebrity. But the racing part is still a work in progress.
Patrick, 30, is nearing the end of her first full season in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide Series, where she has been cutting her teeth in anticipation of joining NASCAR's elite Sprint Cup Series next year.
The former IndyCar driver also has gotten a taste of competing in the Cup series by driving in selected Cup races this season.
The last of her 10 Cup races will be the AdvoCare 500 on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. Patrick, who lives in the Phoenix area, also will drive in the Nationwide race Saturday at the one-mile track.
Her results in both series have been mediocre. But Patrick repeatedly has said the season was less about results and more about getting practice in driving stock cars and learning the tracks where NASCAR races.
Sunday's race, for instance, will be the first time Patrick has raced a Cup car at Phoenix International, and "it will be a good learning experience," she said.
Patrick will start the race 37th in the 43-car field after her qualifying run Friday of 132.95 mph.
In her previous nine Cup races this year, Patrick's average finish has been about 29th. She has not had a finish in the top 20 in her No. 10 Chevrolet prepared by Stewart-Haas Racing.
Her best race was last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, where she finished 24th and on the same lap as the leaders.
In the Nationwide Series, where she drives the No. 7 Chevy for the JR Motorsports team, Patrick's average finish in 31 races has been about 19th; she has three top-10 finishes.
In Nationwide practice Friday afternoon, Patrick posted the seventh-fastest speed at 131.955 mph.
Patrick has been paired with a new crew chief, Tony Gibson, for her last two Cup races, with the expectation that the two will remain teamed when she's a full-time Cup driver in 2013.
Gibson gave Patrick high marks for her race in Texas last Sunday, noting "she ran with guys that she's never run with before: Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin. To come here and run on the lead lap and a shot at a top-20 was pretty impressive."