Patrick ready for open-wheel season

SAO PAULO -- Danica Patrick's stint in NASCAR is receding into her rearview mirror -- for now.

Patrick is back with the IndyCar Series after three races in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide circuit, and she can't wait for the open-wheel season to get under way with the Sao Paulo Indy 300 on Sunday.

"I've really enjoyed my time running in NASCAR thus far," she told The Associated Press in an e-mail. "However, the IndyCar Series has always been my focus and winning the Indianapolis 500 is a lifelong dream. I'm looking forward to getting back into an IndyCar."

Patrick will stick with the IndyCar Series for the next four months before returning to NASCAR in the last weekend in June. She will then spend the rest of the year going back and forth between the final nine IndyCar races and at least 10 more Nationwide events for JR Motorsports.

She felt she raced well in NASCAR despite disappointing results. She finished 35th at Daytona after a crash, was 31st in California and placed 36th in Las Vegas after another accident. She also came in sixth in an ARCA race in Daytona.

"It's always helpful to be behind the wheel, no matter what kind of car it is -- seat time is seat time," she said. "I think the main thing that NASCAR has done is provided me with a base to build my versatility as a driver."

Patrick had said she wasn't sure whether she would like driving in NASCAR but enjoyed the experience from the start and felt she was competitive. She signed a deal to try out NASCAR after securing a contract extension to remain with the Andretti Autosport team in the IndyCar Series until 2012.

"I've been fortunate enough in my career to be able to have driven several different race cars and each one has its own set of challenges," the 27-year-old driver said. "NASCAR has definitely helped me improve as a driver and I think it's only made me more well-rounded on the whole."

But now it's all about the IndyCar Series.

"I'm expecting a lot out of 2010 -- I always set high goals for myself," she said. "I think that consistency will be the biggest asset I have going into the year. I have the same race engineer, the same crew and the same race package. I think that will prove to be very useful as I've had an entire season working with this same formula and we have a solid foundation heading into the season."

Patrick finished fifth in the overall points standings in 2009, a career best. She also had her best Indy 500 performance last year, crossing the finish line in third.

"I think this season will be very competitive," she said. "I'm still looking for a series championship and of course a win [at the Indy 500] is the ultimate goal. Obviously, I want to do well in both series, but for now IndyCar is the focus."