Patrick will commit totally to NASCAR this year.
Fox analyst and Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip dubbed Patrick "the face of NASCAR" when she made her Daytona 500 debut in February and hailed her Darlington Raceway debut as among the best ever at one of NASCAR's trickiest tracks.
Her absence from Indianapolis Motor Speedway (where her familiar GoDaddy.com-sponsored ride will start second with James Hinchcliffe) is perceived as a negative for the Izod IndyCar Series, which will lose the featured attraction of its signature race to NASCAR, but there also is a downside for Patrick. Even during the seasons in which she struggled, Indy offered a chance to shine on auto racing's grandest stage, where she had six top-10 finishes in seven starts, including a third-place.
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There almost certainly will be more watching her drive the No. 10 Chevrolet for defending series champion Tony Stewart at Charlotte than if she were racing at Indy, which has been trumped in TV ratings by NASCAR's 600-mile event in four of the last five years.
The huge bump in exposure (millions more watch NASCAR than IndyCar on a weekly basis) is among the many reasons Patrick made the full-time switch to stock cars this year. She also enjoys the competition and increased opportunities for passing., though she hasn't charged to the front often. She scored the best finish by a woman in NASCAR history with a fourth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March 2011 but hasn't scored another top-five in 35 starts in the second-level Nationwide Series and has an average finish of 20.9 in 10 races in 2012 (and 17.4 in 12 races last year).
Patrick is attempting a difficult transition that many IndyCar drivers (perhaps most notably four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti) have failed to accomplish. Stock cars are heavier with narrower tires and lack the space-age technology that keeps Indy cars glued to the track with much more precision braking. Dale Earnhardt Jr. described the challenge Thursday as "trying to get a four-year degree in a short period of time."