Danica Patrick to NASCAR a win-win

Next week, it becomes official: Danica Patrick will make NASCAR her full-time gig in 2012.

No surprise, of course. We've been saying this for three months, but ESPN's Marty Smith reported Wednesday that Patrick finally is ready to tell the world in a few days.

And it's the right thing to do in every respect.

No sense hiding the obvious any longer. IndyCar officials have known she is leaving since early May.

As expected, Patrick will spend the 2012 season as a full-time driver in the Nationwide Series, continuing to drive the No. 7 Chevy for JR Motorsports.

Good decision. Patrick has yet to race a full season in NASCAR, and needs time to get used to the grind and learn the tracks before moving full time to Cup.

That will happen in 2013 when she drives for Stewart-Haas Racing. Patrick will race a few Cup events next season for SHR but will maintain her rookie status in Cup for 2013.

Again, smart move. Don't push it, but get a taste of Cup competition. And don't be shocked if she attempts to qualify for the 2012 Daytona 500.

Restrictor-plate racing is a discipline in which Patrick shines. And having Tony Stewart to help her, as we saw in the Daytona Nationwide race in July, gives her a chance to run up front in the pairs-style of restrictor-plate competition.

Imagine the buzz surrounding the Daytona 500 next year if Patrick is in the field. Love her or hate her, Patrick is a national celebrity who brings attention and interest from people who wouldn't care about the event without her.

However, her primary focus in 2012 will be the Nationwide Series and driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. It's exactly what she should do. JR Motorsports isn't the best team in the series, but it has Hendrick Motorsports backing and it's a comfortable environment for her under crew chief Tony Eury Jr.

He's the right man for the job to prepare her for Cup. Eury is at his best as a teacher of racing fundamentals. He also has a calming influence over Patrick, who is naturally impatient and lets her emotions get the best of her at times.

And Eury believes in Patrick. He said earlier this year that Patrick would race in the top 15 consistently if she were competing every week in the Nationwide Series.

Some IndyCar fans believe Patrick is making a mistake by leaving her open-wheel roots and going for the big bucks.

Patrick is a wealthy woman for life if she never raced another NASCAR event. But her IndyCar career had stagnated as the series switched to running more road and street courses.

She isn't a good road racer and she knows it. But when Patrick can mash the gas and go, she often can hang with the big boys. High-speed ovals are her strength.

So how good can she become? Good enough to race in the top 10 at times if she has good equipment.

Patrick isn't going to win a Cup title. She might struggle to make the Chase. But she also won't run 30th every week. Patrick is a skilled race car driver who can race competitively in stock cars given more seat time and proper instruction.

Some people, including Earnhardt, have suggested she should race more than one full season in Nationwide before moving to Cup. It's not a realistic option.

Patrick turns 30 in March. The time to make her move is now. At least she's giving the Triple-A league one full year before moving to Cup.

If we're talking Travis Pastrana, one year in Nationwide isn't nearly enough. There is no comparison between the two. Patrick has been racing cars since she was 5 years old. She knows the drill and she has the skills to make a respectable go of it.

In the end, NASCAR comes out a winner whether she succeeds or fails. Patrick is more than just a female driver. She is a phenomenon of pop-culture success.

But don't hate her because she is attractive, even provocative at times, knowing how to sell her brand to the public.

That doesn't make her a bad race car driver. It makes her smart and savvy.

Patrick won't be the best NASCAR driver and she won't be the worst. But she will be the biggest celebrity and best marketing machine to come NASCAR's way in a long time -- maybe ever.

That alone makes this a good move in every respect. It's the right thing to do.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.