Will she, won't she, only Danica knows

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 7 Team GoDaddy Andretti Autosport Dallara Honda, talks with the...

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 7 Team GoDaddy Andretti Autosport Dallara Honda, talks with the media after qualifying for the Indy 500 on Bump Day. (JONATHAN FERREY/Getty Images/AFP)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:20 PM ET

INDIANAPOLIS - It took a while for Danica Patrick to become the centre of attention at the 100th birthday party for the Indianapolis 500.

Unlike years past where she was always a player — that is when she was one of the faster cars during practice and qualifying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — Patrick hasn’t attracted the kind of media buzz that normally accompanies her visits to the Brickyard.

Her Andretti Autosport No. 7 Dallara Honda was a back marker in almost every practice and she didn’t even make the top 24 qualifiers after rain cut short Pole Day.

Patrick finally made the grid in the final minutes on Bump Day.

She will start 25th on Sunday.

But on Wednesday ESPN broke the news Patrick had all but signed a contract for next season to race full time in NASCAR.

All of a sudden she was back in the news in a big way.

Was the 100th Indy going to be her final fling in open wheel racing?

Well on Thursday with all 33 IZOD IndyCar drivers available to the media, the line to interview Patrick was the longest, once again.

And while she smiled pretty for the cameras she was stern in her denials that she had made up her mind that this year would be her Indy swan song.

“Anybody can speculate that and write that,” she told SI.com’s Bruce Martin. “I don’t know where it came from but there is no truth to it; it’s just speculation.

“It’s no different than it was last month or even last year. There is nothing new in it.”

If one were to parse every word, Patrick avoided directly answering the question about her future plans.

Yes, it is speculation; yes it is the same as it was last month and last year.

A month ago and a year ago, however, the speculation was she was going to leave IndyCar racing after her deal with Andretti is over at the end of the current season.

Add to that what was happening in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday where Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart — her closest NASCAR confidants suggested she is indeed coming to stock car racing full time in 2012.

“I think she wants to have more success (in NASCAR) and doing it all the time would be a good move,” Earnhardt, who is also Patrick’s team boss at JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, said. “She just has to choose what she wants to do; what she thinks she will be happy doing.”

Earnhardt thinks she is ready to make the switch to NASCAR for good, but that decision is up to her.

“She has been racing with us enough to know whether she is ready or not,” he said. “She is the one who knows the truth and she’ll make the decision I think she needs to make and that will be that.”

Stewart, who also jumped to NASCAR from IndyCars, said the time is right for her to decide, and, by the way, if she does pick NASCAR Stewart wants her in one of his Stewart Haas Racing’s Chevrolets.

“She’s learning in the Nationwide deal,” he said. “And it’s just time (she needs). I didn’t think I was ready for Cup and Bobby Labonte and Joe Gibbs said, ‘Yeah, you’re ready.’

“It took me running some Cup races before I realized I was ready. She’s smart enough. She didn’t get to this level by making bad decisions. I have the confidence that when she gets that opportunity and when she decides that she wants that opportunity, she’ll do it with the right time in mind.”

Stewart, however, said he hasn’t offered her any kind of deal, yet, and said his only talks with her were about giving her advice on racing in NASCAR.

“I haven’t talked to her about anything else. She’s got a pretty good staff around her that’s pretty sharp — they’re not going to let her go the wrong direction.”


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