Patrick staying in limbo

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:31 AM ET

She loves NASCAR, she loves NASCAR not.

The playground-like coquettishness of Danica Patrick is starting to wear thin. While it may be just the tonic the IndyCar Series needs to attract media attention to this week's finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it isn't endearing the talented 28-year-old to those same scribblers who make a living in vroom-vroom land.

To bring everyone up to date, Patrick is in the final week of her contract with Andretti Green Racing. She has acknowledged that the big bucks and bigger audiences that NASCAR offers would set her up for life, but at the same time she is fearful that a failure on that stage could end her career pronto.

So she has -- despite persistent reports to the opposite -- delayed signing a new deal for 2010 with AGR or any other IRL team.

Patrick has carried on a very public flirtation with Tony Stewart's Stewart Haas Racing in NASCAR, but now both sides are playing down the possibility of her signing on there.

Her latest suitors are Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip, who both lust after the sponsorship bucks Patrick could command should she decide to dabble in NASCAR's Nationwide series -- where both have teams -- next season.

Kelley Earnhardt-Elledge -- who runs JR Motorsports for her brother and Rick Hendrick -- told Speed-TV this week that the team was "exploring options" with Patrick.

"There is a natural fit at JRM with Dale Jr. and Danica both serving as spokespersons for GoDaddy.com," Elledge said. "As a female managing one of the top Nationwide Series teams in the sport, I would be excited to have Danica within the JR Motorsports fold if she decides to enter the world of NASCAR."

And Hendrick told SI.com that Patrick: "Has spoken with Kelley about a limited number of NASCAR races in (the No. 88 Chevrolet) car."

No sooner was that revelation made when Waltrip admitted he had squired Patrick around his MWR shop in North Carolina in an effort to get her name on a contract for next season.

"We've certainly talked to her and are interested in what she's going to do,'' Waltrip told ESPN. "We have sort of done that without a whole lot of people knowing. She knows we're interested when she knows what she's going to do."

So Danica, make up your mind.

Down to the wire

There are a host of other reasons to pay attention to the Firestone Indy 300 on Saturday night, chief among them is the incredibly tight race for the championship.

Scott Dixon holds a ultra-slim 15-point lead on comeback-of-the year candidate and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti and just 18 points over third place Penske Racing's Ryan Briscoe.

Should Dixon win it would put him in some pretty elite company as a three-time champion, joining such legends as A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and any one of the Unser clan.

While her chances are considerably longer, Patrick is having her best season, sitting fifth in the points battle going into HMS. Penske's Helio Castroneves is fourth.

NASCAR magic

Folks who think NASCAR's current Chase for the Sprint Cup championship is boring should get out and watch a stock car race more than once in a decade, because they sure aren't watching the same races these eyes are.

With just 99 points separating the top six drivers after last week's race in Kansas, the stock car show this year is as exciting as any in racing in a long, long time.

And while there's lots wrong with the way NASCAR does business, what it does on the track is going pretty darned well. Consider that of the top-10 finishers at Kansas, nine were Chase teams. And it came down to the final laps for Stewart to out-run Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle.

Team tension

Let's be honest here, when Ross Brawn took over Honda's struggling Formula One squad this season and re-branded it Brawn GP, the last thing he thought he had to worry about was keeping the peace as his two drivers -- Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello -- fought it out for the world championship with two races left on the 2009 calendar.

But that is what has happened in one of the most unlikely story lines in this most messed up of F-1 seasons.

Brawn told Autosport magazine this week that he is doing everything he possibly can to ensure the tension between his drivers stays under control as the championship reaches its climax.

Button is 14 points ahead of Barrichello, who will be looking to win the next race at Interlagos to take the title battle down to the wire in Abu Dhabi.

Finish lines

Disgraced Brazilian former F-1 driver Nelson Piquet Jr. -- who deliberately crashed his Renault at Singapore last season -- and current IRL driver Vitor Meira will test a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Toyota Tundra at Rockingham (S.C.) Speedway for Red Horse Racing next Monday ... Felipe Massa told Italian sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport this week that he is not ruling out returning to F-1 in Abu Dhabi.

DEAN.MCNULTY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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