Danica Patrick will make her Sprint Cup debut in the 2012 Daytona 500 and run a total of 10 races at the Cup level next season in preparation for a presumed full-time move to the Cup Series in 2013.
Patrick will drive the No. 10 car — her favorite number — for Stewart-Haas Racing at the following races in 2012: Daytona 500, Darlington, Bristol II, Atlanta, Chicago, Dover II, Texas II, Phoenix II and two TBD races.
"I've been describing it as the first day of the rest of my life," Patrick said of the move to NASCAR. "I'm all in here and these are my thoughts — this is my focus. And that's what I said to people when I left [IndyCar]. I'll be watching and I'm sure there will be moments when I'll think I wish I was out there because it looks fun. But that's pretty much going to be the extent of it for me is being a spectator."
Her next chapter comes after seven years in the IndyCar Series where Patrick won one race, in Japan in 2008. Next year, she will be fully committed to NASCAR, racing a full schedule for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series as well as the partial Cup schedule for Stewart-Haas.
The reasoning behind Patrick's 2012 schedule, Tony Stewart said, is that the team wanted to give Patrick a challenge.
"We took the whole schedule and tried to find races that we thought, I guess to a certain degree, were really challenging," Stewart said. "We wanted to pick tracks that we thought we needed to put some emphasis on."
Of the eight tracks that are currently decided for Patrick, she will be making her second trip to five of them. Her best finish came at Daytona (a 10th), when she was caught up in a crash as the field raced to the finish line. The two races to be determined will come as the team assesses Patrick's progress.
Patrick's final event as a full-time IndyCar driver came in the season finale at Las Vegas on Oct. 16, the race in which Dan Wheldon was killed. When asked if safety was a consideration when she made her decision to move full-time to NASCAR — a decision that was made months before Wheldon's crash — Patrick said that it was not.
"No," she explained. "My decision to move to NASCAR came as a result of being able to and having a sponsor that was willing to go with me. That's the first step. After that it's really where I had the most fun racing and I have the most fun racing these cars."
Still, she added that she "does feel safer" in the covered stock cars versus the open cockpits of IndyCar.
"[Stock cars] felt safer two years ago when I drove it for the first time," she said. "There's a level of bravery with the car without the wheels being exposed that you slide up or come down and move around the track a little bit that you're really going to just bump door to door or fender to fender. It doesn't mean there can't be big accidents and things can happen.
"Obviously a lot of the serious injuries in IndyCar come from head injuries. So being covered like that, there is definitely a level of comfort, so I'm pleased to have a roof over my head this weekend."
Patrick did add that she would still "love" to race in the Indianapolis 500.
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