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Danica Patrick To Drive In Nationwide Series

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 8 2009
Danica Patrick said Thursday she is considering a plethora of options for her driving future – including NASCAR.   (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

Danica Patrick said Tuesday she will drive stock cars next season. (File photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Danica Patrick announced Tuesday that she will drive a partial Nationwide Series schedule next year and it will be in a car owned and operated by JR Motorsports, the team co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick.

Patrick’s first stock-car race is scheduled to be at Daytona International Speedway in February. It will be in the ARCA series.

She would not say what her first Nationwide race will be. She did not say how many NASCAR events in which she would drive.

“Our primary focus will be before and the IndyCar season as IndyCar is the primary focus,” Patrick said. “We hope to have those details in the next few weeks.”

The car, which will wear the No. 7, will be sponsored by GoDaddy.com. The crew chief for the Nationwide team will be Tony Eury Jr.

Few other details were offered by Patrick, GoDaddy.com owner Bob Parsons or Kelley Earnhardt, who represented JR Motorsports at the press conference.

“We are very excited about her potential,” Earnhardt said. “We’re going to have a lot of fun and rock the world.”

It is likely that most of the races in which Patrick will participate will be held early and late in the season as she will be driving a full IndyCar Series schedule for Andretti Autosport in 2010.

The announcement was made during a press conference in Phoenix.

Why make the jump to NASCAR? The excitement and challenge, she said.

“As a driver, I’m curious,” she said. “When I watch these races, they look exciting. I always enjoyed the IndyCar wheel-to-wheel action we have on the mile-and-a-half, two-mile ovals. It’s exciting for me as a driver. But I really like the wheel-to-wheel action. It’s like a chess match out there.”

Patrick began racing in the IndyCar series in 2005 and was named rookie of the year. She won three poles.

In the five years she has been in the series, Patrick has one victory, which came in Japan in 2008.

In 2009, Patrick finished fifth in points – five places behind Dario Franchitti, whose brief foray into NASCAR resulted in more struggles than successes.

Last month, Patrick signed a two-year contract to continue driving with the Andretti Motorsport team. The contract contained an option for a third year.

“It’s no doubt going to be challenging,” Patrick said of driving in NASCAR. “But we’re really excited about to get moving on it.

“The last time I was in a stock car I barely remember. It was probably seven or eight years ago. I drove at a little old track in South Carolina called Greenville Pickens when it was called Busch (series) and I drove a Busch car. It was good fun. I remember thinking compared to my open-wheel car, it didn’t stop very well. I was like, are these brakes OK? But I had a lot of fun.”

Very few open-wheel drivers have been successful in their attempts to move to stock cars in recent years.

Patrick said she knows it will be a tough challenge. “I have a lot to learn,” she said. “We plan to hit the ground running and do the best that we can.”

She deferred a question on goals to Earnhardt.

Earnhardt said Patrick will be in quality equipment and will be surrounded by top people. She said she thought it would be “reasonable” for Patrick to be a top-15 driver.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 8 2009