December 07, 2009
Danica's coming to NASCAR. For real.
After months of will-she, won't-she, Danica Patrick has announced a deal to enter NASCAR as part of JR Motorsports, the team co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick.
On Tuesday morning in Phoenix, Patrick announced that she will be running a partial season in the Nationwide Series, NASCAR's second-highest series. It's the second major announcement in as many weeks for Patrick, and it was a welcome conclusion to the false starts of the last few months.
Last week, Patrick signed an extension with Andretti Autosport to continue driving two more years in open-wheel IndyCar, with a mutual option for a third year. However, the open schedule of IRL would allow Patrick to run a fairly large number of Nationwide races. GoDaddy.com will be Patrick's sponsor in both NASCAR and IR, and Patrick will race the No. 7 Chevy. Former Dale Earnhardt Jr. crew chief Tony Eury Jr. will serve as Danica's chief.
Obviously, there's precedent for Patrick in NASCAR, both as an IRL racer and as a female. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart started their careers in open-wheel racing, and several more established open-wheel drivers, most notably Juan Pablo Montoya, have made the leap to stock cars. (Though it's worth noting that only Montoya has had significant success, and that only after two years of toil.) On the gender front, there's a small but notable list of women who have run at NASCAR's highest levels.
Assuming Patrick runs all 17 IRL races, which don't even begin until a month after NASCAR's season (and stop six weeks before NASCAR does), here are some of the more prominent tracks at which Patrick could run without conflict as part of the Nationwide season:
• Feb. 14: Camping World 300, Daytona
• Feb. 21: Stater Bros. 300, Auto Club Speedway/California
• Feb. 28: Sam's Town 300, Las Vegas
• Mar. 21: Scotts Turf Builder 300, Bristol
• Apr. 25: Aaron's 312, Talladega
• May 8: Diamond Hill Plywood 200, Darlington
• June 13: Meijer 300, Kentucky Speedway
• July 10: Dollar General 300, Chicagoland
• Aug. 30: NAPA Auto Parts 200, Montreal
• Sept. 11: Virginia 529 College Savings 250, Richmond
• Oct. 16: Dollar General 300, Charlotte
• Nov. 14: Able Body Labor 200, Phoenix
• Nov. 21: Ford 300, Homestead
In all, there are nearly 20 Nationwide races in which Patrick could run, and since her appearance will mean a guaranteed attendance boost, you can count on tracks to do everything they can to entice her to run on their pavement.
Though there are detractors, in NASCAR, there are always detractors. With its limited term and lower-level exposure, the Patrick deal is a winner all the way around; Patrick will bring waves of casual fans to NASCAR, and she's a talented enough driver that she won't totally embarrass herself out on the track. (And if she does, she'll "retire" from NASCAR to "focus all her energy on IndyCar," and that'll be that.)
In the end, though, Danica's announcement may answer some questions, but it begs many more. "Will she drive NASCAR?" has just become "Can she drive NASCAR?" At last, we'll soon find out.
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