Every NASCAR fan waited, wondering if it would happen. Speculation began two years ago, and got even bigger as reports began surfacing.
The wait is now over, as it will happen. At Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona, JR Motorsports announced that IndyCar sensation Danica Patrick will race in the NASCAR Nationwide Series next season.
Patrick signed a two-year deal to race for JR Motorsports, the team owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr, to race the No. 7 Chevrolet Impala SS.
Her race schedule itself has not been set in stone, however it appears that she will bookend her races around her IndyCar schedule, which begins on March 14 and ends on October 2. It is suspected she will run between 10 and 12 races, but when her actual debut will be has not been confirmed.
However, there are many things that have been confirmed in today's press conference:
- Patrick will run her first stock car race on Feb. 6 in the ARCA race at the Daytona International Speedway. She will participate in an ARCA test at the same track from Dec. 18-20 to prepare for the race.
- Long-time sponsor, the web-host provider GoDaddy.com, will sponsor the car in all her races.
- Tony Eury Jr, former crew chief for Earnhardt Jr. and co-owner of JR Motorsports along with Rick Hendrick, Earnhardt Jr., and Kelley Earnhardt, will serve as crew chief.
Patrick admitted that now that the deal is complete, she feels relieved.
"We’ve all been working very hard for some time now to bring this all together,” Patrick said. "There’s much relief there, but I’m starting to get a bit nervous now that it’s time to to do my part of the deal and get out there in these cars and perform."
Questions about Patrick coming to NASCAR were not so much if she would come, but more about when she would come. Now that she has decided to try stock cars, there will be many naysayers that will question her move.
Patrick, however, isn't paying attention to those people.
"I really don't think a lot about that kind of stuff," Patrick said. "Everybody is entitled to their own opinion—that's fine with me.
"My job is to prove to all the people that are around me that I'm committed, that I want to do this, that I'm willing to put in the right amount of effort, and that's all I have to do."
Bob Parsons, GoDaddy.com founder and CEO, said that he believes Patrick will do well in her new adventure, and is proud to be along for the ride.
"This is probably the fourth year that we've sponsored Danica Patrick," Parsons said of his driver. "We started a number of years ago, featuring her in our commercials.
"Over that time, I've gotten to know her, and the one thing I can tell you—when she goes into NASCAR, she's no wilting flower. That gal is going to trade a lot of paint, and that suits her just fine."
Although sponsorship for Patrick is set, the full-time car for JR Motorsports, the No. 88 of Kelly Bires, only has funding for half the season.
Kelley Earnhardt believes that having Patrick sign with the team will help bring sponsorship for their other car.
"It's going to have some different eyeballs on JR Motorsports, in a good way," Earnhardt said. "It's very exciting. The branding and the stuff that we've done with Dale Jr.—to be where he is in the sport—it's equally exciting to bring her along and just have a new set of eyeballs watching and the female factor, with the young girls and the role-model thing.
"I'm really excited about it."
Patrick will bring a lot of new faces to the sport, but the big factor will be her performance on the track. With her competing full-time in IndyCar, the idea of her coming to NASCAR a few years ago was not on her mind.
Now, Patrick says that she feels more comfortable with a heavier schedule.
"I think the schedule doesn’t intimidate me as much as it used to. It’s going to be a lot to learn,” Patrick said.
Patrick finished fifth in the 2009 IndyCar Series points in her Andretti Autosport entry, her most successful season to date. With the success in her open-wheel career, expectations from other teams, drivers and fans could be high.
Earnhardt, however, had more subtle expectations for her driver.
“I think it’s reasonable for her to be in the top-15 of the series when she’s running,” Earnhardt said. “Obviously, maybe the first few races, we’ll see what that brings. She’s got to get in there and get used to the cars.
“Hopefully, everybody will remember that and won’t be so quick to judge, which is easy to do.”
Her signing to drive NASCAR is a major milestone in the sport, but whether this is a stepping stone for her into the Sprint Cup Series is unknown.
"I think that's the natural thing to do, to see how it goes," Patrick said. "There's no plans right now to do anything beyond [doing] this partial schedule, but, obviously, we'll have to ask ourselves that question [about a move to Cup] if it goes well."
Right now, Patrick is focused on learning her "new craft" in stock cars. Before she can consider making any move upwards in NASCAR, she will have to prove that she belongs in the sport.
“It’s an opportunity to try and show what I’ve got.”