Finally making official the worst-kept secret in racing, current IndyCar Series driver Danica Patrick announced Thursday she will drive a full-time schedule in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2012, along with a partial Sprint Cup Series schedule.
Patrick will drive for her current Nationwide team, the Dale Earnhardt Jr.-owned JR Motorsports, as well as "eight to 10 races" in the Sprint Cup Series for Tony Stewart's Stewart-Haas Racing.
"I've truly enjoyed my experience in NASCAR to the point that I want to do it full-time," she said at sponsor Go Daddy's headquarters. "I feel like in the last year, I've really come around much more on the track and top-10s are happening much more frequently. I feel like I'm getting it more and more all the time. ... I feel really confident I can be successful in the future."
Patrick did not say which Sprint Cup races she would run next season (she was iffy on the possibility of running the Daytona 500), nor did she say whether she would drive in next season's Indianapolis 500, which she called "the greatest race in the world."
She did indicate a desire to drive at Indy, however. Patrick also said her goal is to drive a full Sprint Cup Series schedule in 2013.
NASCAR chairman Brian France released a rare statement of welcome, saying NASCAR was "pleased" that Patrick decided to join NASCAR full-time.
"Danica has shown solid improvement in NASCAR and we believe her decision to run full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, with additional races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will be exciting for our fans and a great challenge for her," France said.
It's unclear whether what number Patrick's car in the Cup Series will be. She's long used the No. 7 (and will continue to do so in the Nationwide Series) but Robby Gordon currently uses that number in Cup.
So why is Patrick making this move? It's not about the money, she said – though there is certainly far more money in NASCAR than in IndyCar – but more about how much she likes NASCAR.
"I made this decision because of how much I enjoy driving stock cars and, in particular, how much I enjoy racing stock cars," she said. "The races are so interesting. There are so many pit stops, there are so many strategies that play out. You have to take care of your car, you have to know when to push with it.
"I just really have fun with it. It's really about enjoying the racing and enjoying the people and my life when I'm at those races."