Danica Patrick finally drives into NASCAR full time

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – B.D. – Before Danica – GoDaddy.com’s worldwide market share of the new domain registration business stood at 16 percent. Presently, it’s at 53.

GoDaddy founder and CEO Bob Parsons doesn’t credit Patrick for the entirety of the 231 percent increase in market share his company has experienced since signing up to sponsor her in 2007, but he knows Danica is a huge part of it.

“I ride a motorcycle, and I take trips every year and invariably I’ll stop at gas stations, and the wonderful thing about gas stations is it’s a real eclectic mix of people – from every stratum,” Parsons said Thursday at company headquarters. “And often I’ll approach somebody and ask them if they’ve ever heard of a company called GoDaddy.com. And almost always they’ll say, ‘GoDaddy.com – Danica Patrick.’ ”

Danica Patrick will race in NASCAR's Nationwide Series full time beginning in 2012.
(Getty Images)

It’s for this reason that Parsons has openly declared on numerous occasions that he and his company will follow Danica anywhere she goes. And now, they are following her to NASCAR.

In an announcement that has been reported for weeks, the 29-year-old Patrick finally declared her intention to race in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series full time beginning in 2012, as well as a part-time Cup schedule racing with Tony Stewart.

“With breaking news that will shock the world, I am excited to finally announce that GoDaddy will be taking me full time to NASCAR next year,” Patrick said jokingly in a news conference Thursday at her sponsor’s headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I’m just excited to not have to answer the questions anymore.”

Patrick then picked up a pen and, in a move that had the makings of a presidential bill signing, inked her name on a contract that will officially bring her to NASCAR and effectively end her seven-year run in the IndyCar Series.

[Related: Danica Patrick photo gallery]

When she did, the statements from around the motor sports world poured in, from the fawning of NASCAR – “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” – to the mourning of IndyCar, where CEO Randy Bernard said, “Danica attracted a fan base that every athlete and sports property in the world would love to have. We should give her a great farewell this season as she opens a new page in her career and wish her continued success with her new direction.”

Ridiculously over the top, yes, but so is the way it’s been with Danica ever since she burst into the American sporting consciousness when she very nearly won the Indianapolis 500 back in 2005. Since then, she’s been a media darling, a role given to her not just by an adoring press corps, but by fans – yes, you – who are intrigued by her even if they won’t admit it.

Parsons understands this better than anyone, which is why he’s more than willing to pay the increased premium that comes with NASCAR sponsorship. In financial terms, this means going from a seven- to eight-figure investment.

“The beautiful thing about Danica is when she races, everybody knows where she finishes,” Parsons explained. “There’s so many times when people will say, ‘Well, Danica finished fourth,’ and I’ll say, ‘Who won it?’ ‘Uh, I don’t know.’ ”

The details of Patrick’s future plans are as follows:

• Full-time Nationwide schedule with JR Motorsports in 2012
• Part-time Cup schedule – about eight to 10 races – with Stewart-Haas in 2012.

Patrick, who’s never driven a Cup car, would not confirm reports that she will make her Cup debut in next year’s Daytona 500, saying that decision has yet to be made, though both she and Parsons admitted it is intriguing. She also didn’t rule out the possibility of running in the Indianapolis 500. And while she wouldn’t speculate on her plans beyond 2012, when asked if she wants to race in the Cup Series full time in 2013 said, “That’s the goal.”

Of course, the path from IndyCar to the Cup Series is littered with road kill – most notably Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr., both IndyCar champions who flamed out in the Cup Series. Patrick said she’s not worried about that.

“We take into consideration what other drivers have been able to do, but at the end of the day I’m not them, I’m me and I have different opportunities and I’m working with different people and I think that we all have the chances to create our own successes in different ways and hopefully the way that we’re going about it works,” she said.

Those different opportunities? More prospects to make money. Those different people? Danica expects to be in better equipment than Franchitti and Hornish. Creating her own successes? Winning may not be the only measure of success.

Patrick insisted Thursday that money wasn’t the determining factor in her decision, saying if it were she would have made the switch a long time ago.

“That’s probably something that a lot of people think,” she said, “but if it was about money I would have gone a long time ago. … I just always go where my heart tells me to go, where my gut tells me to go, where I’m enjoying my life the most and where I feel I can have the most success. … I’ve truly enjoyed my experience in NASCAR to the point that I want to do it full time.

“I feel like in the last year I’ve really come around much more on the track,” continued Patrick, who has three top 10s in seven Nationwide races this season. “I feel I have lot to learn, that’s for sure, but I feel like I’m getting it more all the time and that I really feel confident that I can be really successful.”

After Thursday’s announcement, as Patrick posed for pictures by her new race car, Parsons stood off to the side beaming, knowing that he’d made the right call to hire her as a spokesperson four years ago.

“If she decided to do figure skating,” he said, “we’d probably sponsor her.”

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Updated Thursday, Aug 25, 2011