HAMPTON, Ga. -- Danica Patrick will "all but certainly" be in NASCAR in 2010, but won't give up Indy car racing and will limit next year's activity to the Nationwide Series and Trucks, according to a source very close to the situation.
Tony Stewart is the "star candidate" to be her partner and mentor in NASCAR, the source said, adding that Patrick's recent visits to Stewart-Haas Racing were much more than social -- that she and Stewart were discussing a deal, and are close to one.
"I can pretty much guarantee at some point she's going to be over here," Stewart told reporters Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, meaning NASCAR in general and hinting at something the source confirmed and clarified.
The plan is for Patrick to run a significant number of Nationwide races, with additional seat time in Trucks and ARCA cars. Stewart took a similar transitional path to NASCAR in 1998, running a full Indy car schedule and also 22 Nationwide (then Busch) races.
Patrick's likeliest first stock car race would be the ARCA event at Daytona during SpeedWeeks next February.
There's no way Patrick would a) plunge immediately into the Cup level next year, or b) give up Indy car racing until she's sure she can do well in NASCAR, the source said.
"She doesn't have some misguided idea that it's going to be easy," Stewart said. "She wants to do it the right way. She has the intention of doing everything right."
Because Stewart's team has neither Nationwide cars nor trucks in its stable, a third partner will be brought into the mix, the source said -- possibly Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports, or, more likely, Kevin Harvick Inc., which fields both Trucks and Nationwide cars.
Patrick is close to signing a contract renewal with Andretti Green Racing for Indy cars, the source said, but it's not a done deal yet.
But clearly now, Patrick's interest in NASCAR is more than a long-suspected bargaining chip with Andretti Green.
"She's looked me straight in the eye and said, 'Hey, this is what I want to do,'" Stewart said.
Sponsorship is not considered an issue for America's top female driver, and the first car manufacturer to sign Patrick to a NASCAR deal would get a big boost in brand exposure.
"I'm intrigued to hear a little bit more about what her thoughts are, and what she's planning to do," said Brent Dewar, vice president of Chevrolet Global, who was here Saturday to visit with Chevy teams. "We'll probably talk at a future event at a future location."
T.J. Patrick, Danica's father, has for several years urged her to switch to NASCAR where the money, TV ratings and sponsorships are much bigger than in the Indy Racing League. But, reached by phone Saturday evening, T.J. Patrick said he's under a gag rule from his daughter during the negotiations, and that he isn't being kept in the loop anyway.
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.