Danica destined for NASCAR

DEAN MCNULTY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

Now that Danica Patrick has stepped into the win column in the Indy Racing League -- too bad it had to come in the middle of the night in Japan -- the conjecture has begun about when she will switch to NASCAR.

If she wins Sunday at Kansas Speedway, the racing pundits will have her in that proposed fourth Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet faster than you can say oval.

Such is the imbalance of power in North American auto sports that many just assume it would a natural progression for the 25-year-old from Roscoe, Ill.

After all, two of the past three Indianapolis 500 winners and IndyCar champions are toiling in the 3,400-pound sedans of the Sprint Cup series.

It's not just about prestige, either, as Cup drivers -- even the average ones -- earn more than twice as much as their counterparts in open-wheel racing.

The thing about Patrick, however, is that since she burst on to the scene three seasons ago to lead a lap at Indianapolis, it hasn't been about money for her.

Her stable of endorsements will keep the bill collectors from her door for the rest of her life.

And her family was wined and dined by NASCAR heavyweight Jack Roush at the height of her popularity to no avail.

Patrick says she still has something to prove in Indy Cars -- a win at the Indy 500 would likely do it -- before she'd even consider NASCAR.

Then there is the matter of time.

Patrick has made it abundantly clear she treasures her private time, something she has been able to do in the IRL, but knows she would have to give up that freedom with the 39-week grind that is the Cup schedule from February to November.

Yet after finally shutting up the "she can't win" brigade, Patrick might be ready for a new challenge.

Like all elite athletes, Patrick is driven by competition and as soon as the talk starts about whether she could handle the boys from Charlotte, just watch her want to prove them wrong, too.

TALLADEGA TALK

In the fall 2007 NASCAR Sprint Cup Talladega race Jeff Gordon did something almost completely out of character -- he rode around at the back of the pack waiting for the opportunity to get to the front.

With one lap left he made his move and put his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in the winner's circle.

It was the only lap he led all day.

But the stress of laying back didn't sit well with the four-time champion and he said he won't try it this Sunday at the 2.6-mile Alabama Super speedway.

"We didn't want to lay back during the fall race, but there were a lot of unknowns with the new car at the track," Gordon said. "Our qualifying position played the biggest part in determining our strategy. Starting so far back, we thought it would be best to play it safe and work our way into contention near the end of the race.

"I've never had to do that before, and it was difficult to get into that mindset," Gordon said. "We talked about it before the race and I said, 'I can't do it.'

"It was tough because I don't like riding around in back. I want to be up front, battling for the lead and leading laps from the drop of the green flag."

FINISH LINES

Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen thinks three consecutive wins for his Ferrari team is within his grasp this weekend at the Spanish Grand Prix. The 28-year-old Finn leads the standings, but said yesterday that with such a long season the victories now pay bigger dividends later. "The situation can change very quickly in Formula One. That's why it's very important to collect as many points as possible in every single race," he said ... How important is Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the Hendrick operation? Next week, two-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson will give up ultra-valuable test time at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the No. 48 Chevrolet so Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet can get some extra track time ... Another big test this week for Canadian D.J. Kennington, who will attempt to qualify the No. 81 MacDonald Motorsports Dodge in the NASCAR Nationwide race Saturday at Talladega. The St. Thomas, Ont., native hasn't missed a race yet this season and has climbed up to 22nd in the drivers championship.


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