Motor racing: Danica Patrick's NASCAR plans, IndyCar to exit Japan, and a repave in Phoenix
Danica Patrick plans to compete in 12 NASCAR Nationwide Series races this season as the popular IndyCar Series driver enters her second year of stock-car racing in and around her IndyCar schedule.
Patrick, 28, already had said she would drive in the first four races in NASCAR's second-level series, starting with the season opener Feb. 19 at Daytona International Speedway. That will be followed by races in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Bristol, Tenn.
Her remaining Nationwide schedule includes the series' road race in Montreal on Aug. 20 and the final three races of the season at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida, her JR Motorsports team announced Wednesday.
Patrick's schedule does not include Auto Club Speedway in Fontana this year because the Nationwide race there, on March 26, is the same weekend as the IndyCar season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Patrick drove in 13 Nationwide races last year and mostly struggled. Her best finish, 19th, came in the season finale at Homestead-Miami.
But as she gains the experience of a second NASCAR season, there's widespread speculation that she will decide whether to compete full-time in NASCAR in 2012 or stay with IndyCar racing.
"I have a much different perspective heading into this season," Patrick said in a statement. "I know a little more of what to expect, and I'm not as out of my element."
In 2008, Patrick became the first woman to win an IndyCar race with a victory at the 1.5-mile track in Motegi, Japan. But in a separate announcement, IndyCar said it would not return to Motegi in 2012. Because of time-zone differences, the race was televised late at night in the United States.
"It is important that the final few events on our schedule give us the opportunity to be broadcast live during times that maximize our viewing audience as we build up to the championship," said Terry Angstadt, president of IndyCar's commercial division.
Phoenix International Raceway, meanwhile, said it plans to repave and modify the quirky one-mile track after its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Feb. 27.
The changes, which include widening the front stretch by 10 feet and tightening the track's signature dog-leg bend on the back stretch, are aimed at promoting more side-by-side racing. The makeover is scheduled to be finished before NASCAR returns to Phoenix in mid-November.
-- Jim Peltz
Photo: Danica Patrick sits in her car prior to qualifying in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Dover, Del., on Sept. 25, 2010. Credit: Nick Wass / Associated Press