IndyCar racer Danica Patrick says while she hasn't decided if she'll bolt to NASCAR full-time next season, it will be a racing decision and not simply a move to boost her stratospheric Q-rating.
"If it was only about that and about the amount of people watching and that stuff, I probably would have left a long time ago," Patrick told a news conference Friday prior to practice for Sunday's Edmonton Indy.
"But I didn't, and that's because I follow my gut and I follow my heart, and I think about where I'm going to have the most fun, and where I feel like I'm going to have the best chance to win."
If that's the case, then Patrick could be as good as gone.
The 29-year-old from Roscoe, Ill., seems to be having more fun driving part-time in the NASCAR Nationwide series for JR Motorsports than in the open-wheel series.
She's now in her second year in NASCAR, and the results are starting to come.
On March 5 this year, driving the No. 7 Chevrolet Impala, she was fourth at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, becoming the first woman to win a major NASCAR national touring event.
On July 1 at the famed Daytona International Speedway, Patrick led for 13 of 100 laps and took control, directing teammate Aric Almiroal to "Just follow my ass, OK" and draft in behind her as she carved a path through the wind.
Hopes were dashed on the final lap when Patrick got caught up in a multi-car wreck, but she still managed to lug the fiery stock car over the finish line for a 10th-place finish.
Afterward she jumped out of the car, high-fived her crew and told reporters: "I had a hell of a lot of fun."
IndyCar, by comparison, has been six plus seasons of steady but unspectacular results in the No. 7 electric green GoDaddy.com Dallara-Honda.
This year has been no exception. Patrick has five top-10 finishes in 10 races, but has never been higher than fifth. The championship is a distant memory - she sits tied for 10th with Canadian Alex Tagliani, 180 points back.
She has won one race in her career and while she runs consistently in the top half of the field, the results have not reflected a driver with access to top engineers and a racing team with deep pockets like Andretti Autosport.
It's been promise unfulfilled for a woman who burst onto the national racing scene in 2005, making history for women at the Indianapolis 500 by finishing fourth and leading for 19 laps.
Success, combined with her good looks and savvy marketing, vaulted her into instant IndyCar "It Girl" status.
She's in swimsuit layouts, and on talk shows, presents awards with heartthrob Justin Bieber, and seen by millions in Super Bowl commercials.
There have been moments of unalloyed joy, capped by her spraying champagne on the top of the podium after her lone IndyCar win, in Japan in 2008.
Most days on track, though, the world's photographers always seem to catch her looking like a robot, marching in a straight line from pits to paddock, her mouth a razor-thin scar, humanity obscured by oversized, black Terminator sunglasses.
When there is emotion, it ends up being YouTube fodder of her squabbling with other drivers, complaining about the car on the radio, or having a slapfight with infamous IndyCar road hazard Milka Duno.
Patrick said she still loves the feel of the open wheel.
"There's nothing like driving an open wheel car. They have an amazing feel out there," she said.
"(But) sometimes it's a little bit of follow the leader (in Indycar), so sometimes it's fun to race the stock car."
She admits she prefers the breakneck speed of the ovals to the twisty-turns of the road and street courses.
IndyCar has moved away from ovals in the last few years, and circuit CEO Randy Bernard says it will stay a 50-50 split. The hard-core traditionalists and gearheads like the ovals, he said in a recent interview, but the youth market and the big sponsorships are with the street and road venues.
Patrick said she has made her peace with that.
"I think we have to go where the people are, and where the people want to see us, not only get the fans to come out to the race track, but get them to watch on TV," she said.
"You can get a remarkable 200,000 people at a race, but a 0.2 (TV) rating is not good.
"You have to get the ratings. That's what the sponsors look at, so whatever you have to do to get that I think is the right direction."
It's also one more reason for her to go to the more popular NASCAR, but Patrick isn't saying.
"I just listen to my heart," she said.
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