CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- IndyCar Series star Danica Patrick made official on Tuesday plans to drive a partial Nationwide Series schedule for JR Motorsports in 2010.
Now comes the hard part.
Patrick will begin at an ARCA Series test at Daytona International Speedway on Dec. 18-20 her quest to make the transition from open wheel cars to stock cars. It is an experiment that NASCAR welcomes because of the intense attention the 27-year-old driver will bring to the male-dominated sport.
It is a decision that some have been skeptical of since Patrick made public her intentions.
"She should stay where she is," Janet Guthrie, the first woman to reach the top level of open wheel racing and NASCAR in the 1970s, told the New York Times earlier this year. "She is in the best possible situation in the IRL, in the catbird seat with one of the few teams [Andretti Autosport] that is capable of winning."
Regardless, Patrick is excited about the new venture that will have her in a No. 7 -- her number in IndyCar -- Chevrolet sponsored by GoDaddy.com for about a dozen Nationwide races. She signed a two-year deal.
The IndyCar sensation unveiled her green and orange No. 7 Chevrolet at Chase Field on Tuesday.
The plan is to enter Patrick in the ARCA opener in February at Daytona and get approval by NASCAR for the Nationwide opener. An exact number of races weren't given as Patrick made the announcement from Phoenix, but sources said it will be around 12.
The GoDaddy.com sponsorship will be on the JRM car only for the races in which Patrick drives, sources said. JRM officials continue to look for sponsorship for the No. 88 that will be driven by Kelly Bires and any remaining races for the No. 7 car.
Patrick will bring much-needed publicity to a sport with sagging attendance and television ratings. According to the Davie Brown Index that measures a celebrity's ability to influence brand affinity and consumer purchase intent Patrick ranks tied for third in NASCAR with seven-time Sprint Cup champion Richard Petty behind Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. In terms of appeal -- or consumer likeability -- she ranks second only to Petty.
Patrick's biggest challenge will be on the track.
"Danica, I think she's got the talent and everything but I don't think she knows what she's getting into," Juan Pablo Montoya said in September.
Montoya understands the difficulties of the transition better than most. The former Indianapolis 500 champion left Formula One three years ago to pursue a career in the Sprint Cup series.
A driver with far better credentials than Patrick, who has one win and finished no better than fifth in points, Montoya ranked 20th in points as a rookie and 25th a year ago before making the Chase this season. He still hasn't won on an oval track.
"They're so different to drive," said Montoya, explaining the difference between a stock car and Indy car. "It's not the same feeling."
Montoya said trying to compete in IndyCar and the Nationwide Series at the same time will make the transition even more difficult.
"I wouldn't be doing both cars, to be honest with you," he said. "That's my advice."
Team owner Jack Roush agreed, telling reporters last month if Patrick wants to come to NASCAR she should do it "with all her heart and soul and commitment," not on a part-time basis.
Others suggest patience will be the key to whether Patrick succeeds or not.
"It will take time no matter how good someone is," Carl Edwards recently said. "Coming from another discipline to this, that's a huge step."
Patrick's ultimate goal, if she succeeds in Nationwide, appears to be a career in the Sprint Cup series as soon as the new three-year deal she has with Andretti Autosport expires in 2012.
There has been speculation that Patrick might be a future replacement for 50-year-old Mark Martin in the No. 5 sponsored by GoDaddy.com at Hendrick Motorsports. Team owner Rick Hendrick co-owns JR Motorsports with Earnhardt and his sister, Kelley Earnhardt.
But for now the focus is on getting prepared for Daytona.
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