Patrick 'dedicated' to NASCAR future

Is there any question NASCAR's "It Girl" is serious about hanging with the big boys?

News flash: Danica Patrick is skipping the Indianapolis 500 to race in the Coca-Cola 600 in May.


That shows a serious level of engagement for Patrick, who has dabbled in NASCAR before making a full-time commitment to race a full Nationwide Series schedule and 10 Sprint Cup races this season.

"It was her decision," said Tony Stewart, her team owner at Stewart-Hass Racing. "We didn't tell her she couldn't run the Indy race. … It shows how dedicated she is to making this thing work."

It was a call made on the business side for Patrick, who competed in her first Indianapolis 500 in 2005 and finished fourth — marking the highest finish in that race for a female driver.

Patrick is expected to make her Sprint Cup debut in the Daytona 500 on Feb.26.

It will be a clash of the titans — one of the biggest names in racing competing in the highest-profile event for the NASCAR season.

"At Daytona, the cars are very fast, so I feel good about that race," Patrick said. "I was lucky enough to get to run with Tony in the Nationwide race last summer and that went pretty good, so I feel good about Daytona and I think there's a real chance, if luck falls our way, to perhaps win."

It's not totally an off-the-wall wish list. Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 in his first attempt.

Gordon wins award: Jeff Gordon won the National Motorsports Press Association Speedway Motorsports Spirit Award for 2011 for his work with children's health initiatives. Gordon's efforts included a hands-on trip to Rwanda in July to meet children ravaged by cancer.

"If we don't help these children, they will die, and I cannot accept knowing we are capable of helping prevent these children from dying and doing nothing," Gordon wrote recently in his blog. "I've challenged myself to not only continue the work of the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation and my efforts personally, but to do more because a child suffering from cancer is a child suffering from cancer. The location of the child or their skin color does not matter."

Love bugs not squashed? Mark Martin, now with Michael Waltrip Racing, offers a sobering prediction to fans who think tandem racing is dead because of the new restrictor-plate setups that will be put in play for the start of the season in Daytona.

"When it's time to go racing," Martin said, referring to the final laps, "it's still going to be tandem racing."

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