NASCAR & Auto Racing

Danica sparksa buzz

There was no mincing words about Danica Patrick's official entry into NASCAR.

"We're going to rock the world!" JR Motorsports executive vice president Kelley Earnhardt proclaimed after announcing Tuesday the team would field a limited Nationwide Series schedule for Patrick during the next two seasons.

As sister to NASCAR's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kelley Earnhardt is well-versed on attention-grabbing headlines and drivers.

Since nearly winning the 2005 Indianapolis 500, Patrick, 27, has been one of the most recognized faces in motorsports. Her first victory in the IndyCar Series, on April 20, 2008, in Japan, only added to the luster.

"I've always thought that the most important thing for me in my career is that I go with my gut and I go with what I want and not worry about the rest," Patrick said of her decision to give NASCAR a try. "And so now my curiosity is there and I'd like to just try it, and I'd like to see how I get on with the cars.

"I just think the racing looks fun."

She joins an organization owned in part by Earnhardt Jr., a move Kelley Earnhardt believes could be a watershed moment.

"I think there is no denying NASCAR has sought and needed a talented female driver, and one of most exciting things to me about this deal is the potential that lies ahead," Kelley Earnhardt said. "When I was a driver long ago, there weren't the same opportunities available for female drivers like there are today.

"I would hope Danica's success and the team we've built here at JR Motorsports will bring some credibility."

It also might well bring some expansion to JR Motorsports.

"The success we've had with Brad Keselowski and the program with Danica we hope will be stepping stones to prepare us for our ultimate goal - to run in the Cup series," Kelley Earnhardt said. "Whether that is with Danica or not, it is too soon to tell."

No schedule for Patrick has been set, although it likely will hover about 10 races during both 2010 and 2011, with most taking place before and after the IndyCar season. She will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet sponsored by - the same car number and sponsor she has in IndyCar.

"That's going to be a good teaching mechanism," Patrick said. "Obviously, if ever one day it continued on and I ended up running in Cup one day, I need to learn to race those guys and earn their respect.

"I'm excited about that, actually. It's an opportunity to show what I've got."

With that scenario in mind, it's likely Patrick could run Lowe's Motor Speedway for the October 2010 NASCAR weekend.

Patrick is wasting no time preparing for her stock-car debut, heading to Daytona Beach, Fla., next week for a three-day Automobile Racing Club of America test.

Although Patrick plans to run the Feb. 6 ARCA opener at Daytona with a JR Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet, she is not required to do so. NASCAR officials confirmed Patrick has been approved to run the Nationwide and Truck series on all tracks - including superspeedways in Daytona and Talladega, Ala.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti - open-wheel drivers who ventured into NASCAR - also were approved to run on those tracks without prior experience on them.

Montoya has advanced onto the Cup series, but Franchitti returned to IndyCar and won this season's championship.

Patrick said she has spoken to several NASCAR drivers and believes they will give her the chance to prove herself.

What about fans? Can she win them over?

"I think in my experience there are IndyCar fans and NASCAR fans and then there are fans that are just pure racing fans. I hope it will be a warm welcoming," she said.