CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Danica Patrick, the highest-finishing woman in the Indianapolis 500, will skip the race this season and instead enter NASCAR’s longest event of the year.
Patrick said Monday she’s added the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway to her schedule. She’ll drive for Stewart-Haas Racing, and team owner Tony Stewart said the decision to sit out the Indianapolis 500 was Patrick’s decision.
“We didn’t tell her she couldn’t run the 500. It was left up to her,” Stewart said. “It shows how dedicated she is to making this transition.”
Patrick has left the IndyCar Series for a full-time move to NASCAR. She’s running the second-tier Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports, and 10 races in the elite Sprint Cup Series for Stewart. She had previously announced eight Cup races, and the Coca-Cola 600 is her ninth announced event.
She jokingly called the race “The Coke 6,000. It’s quite long, I’ve been told,” and said she’s not ready to rule out the Indianapolis 500 forever.
“I hope to do it in the future, the Indy 500 that is, and maybe it will be a double,” she said. “But at this point in time, after a lot of conversations, it’s just going to be the Coke 600 and I think it’s going to be a big challenge. It’s just is something that didn’t work out, as far as the business-side of things.
“I am hopeful to do it in the future, but for this year, it just didn’t happen,” Patrick added.
Patrick led 19 laps and finished fourth in the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2005. She finished third in 2009.
Both the Indy 500 and the Coke 600 are run on May 27.
Stewart, Robby Gordon and John Andretti have all tried to run both events on the same day. Stewart, NASCAR’s three-time champion, completed the double twice: In 1999, he was ninth at Indy and fourth at Charlotte, and in 2001, he was sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte.
He’s not tried Indianapolis since, and has let go of his childhood dream of winning the 500. He has twice won the Brickyard 400, NASCAR’s race at the storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“The hard part for me was you make that decision when you sign up to do (NASCAR),” Stewart said. “The decision you make, you have to come to peace with yourself with saying `I’m not going to do this.’ That was my childhood dream anyway. It may be a different scenario and feeling for her. But it was hard knowing when I signed that (NASCAR) contract that I was writing off the opportunity to go race at Indy.
“It’s figuring out at the end of the day what do you really want to do. I guess that’s the part that even though it was hard to watch opening day of practice at Indianapolis, I’m enjoying what I’m doing, too, and this is what I want to do at the end of the day,” he continued. “It makes you want 30-hour days and 400-day years and we always want to do more than what we’re capable of doing, but the reality is you have to pick at some point and choose your career path. This is what I’ve done and what she’s doing now.”
But Stewart said so long as Indianapolis Motor Speedway makes it logistically possible for Patrick to attempt both races, she may eventually run the race again. He said he has no interest in fielding a car for her, citing how much he’s already doing with all his other teams.
Patrick has already set some of her expectations for NASCAR, and sounded Monday as if she expects her debut in the Daytona 500 next month to go as well as her debut in the Indianapolis 500. She tested there two weeks ago with new crew chief Greg Zipadelli, and after leading 13 laps at Daytona in last July’s Nationwide race, likes her chances in the Feb. 26 season opener.
“At Daytona, the cars are very fast, so I feel good about that race,” she said. “I was lucky enough to get to run with Tony in the Nationwide race last summer and that went pretty good, so I feel good about Daytona and I think there’s a real chance, if luck falls our way, to perhaps win.
“I think it’s a real chance. I mean a guy like Trevor Bayne last year showed that. Those are the expectations for the first race.”
Bayne, a rookie last season, was the upset winner of the Daytona 500, which Stewart said was proof that Patrick is a viable contender.
“A rookie won it last year, why would you ever count yourself out?” he asked. “She’s a talented driver. Our cars were really fast at Daytona. At that point, I’d have that confidence.”
© 2012 The Associated Press