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Danica and NASCAR: She's Here (Almost)

by Dave Grayson
Friday, November 06, 2009

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How long before Danica is spread half naked across the hood of a NASCAR car?  Sex sells, even in NASCAR.  How long before she becomes NASCAR's most popular driver?
So, it now appears that the winner of the Danica Patrick sweepstakes is JR Motorsports, the NASCAR Nationwide Series team owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr that has an extremely strong association with Rick Hendrick Motorsports. A formal announcement was planned for sometime after the completion of the current NASCAR season but, somehow, the cat was let out of the bag this past Wednesday.

The announcement concludes several months of speculation regarding the next step in Patrick's racing career. Her contract with Andretti Green Racing, her Indy Racing League (IRL) team, was up for renewal this year. At first, many thought her hints regarding a switch to NASCAR was a negotiating ploy to get everything she wanted in a new IRL contract. Over the months there were persistent rumors regarding the interest of NASCAR teams such as Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart Haas Racing and even Michael Waltrip Racing.

This story became a major distraction in the process of covering the standard NASCAR story lines. I actually recall writing "Hey Danica just pick one. IRL, NASCAR, a go kart team or even announce your retirement from racing and become a leggy super model."

As summer turned into fall the pieces of the puzzle began to land into place. The announcement came that Patrick had signed a contract extension with Andretti Green to remain in the IRL for three more years. That made all the sense in the world. She's a super star in that series who still has some unfinished business there. Winning more races, winning the Indianapolis 500 as well as an IRL championship are high priorities on her lists of things to do in open wheel racing.

But, between those IRL commitments, was also a strong desire to begin a transition towards NASCAR racing that eventually led to last Wednesday's announcement regarding JR Motorsports. This deal is not officially signed just yet but the reports say an agreement is extremely close and the contract could be signed within the next two weeks. There has been no comment regarding contract terms but the general speculation is the cost for her driving services is going to be rather "pricey."

There is much speculation, from a multitude of sources, that says her transition will begin during the Daytona speed weeks and the debut will be in the ARCA Series race. From that point she will be allegedly driving in approximately 12 NASCAR Nationwide Series events throughout 2010 that won't interfere with her IRL schedule.

This is actually a very intelligent approach to Patrick's NASCAR transition. It's not going to be easy and she knows that. The difference between the two racing genres is literally that proverbial comparison of apples to oranges. For example, that Nationwide Series car isn't going to have one of those IRL high tech, mega thousand dollar, steering wheels with a digital read out that electronically tells a crew chief everything he needs to know about the car. Patrick will have to learn to feel a stock car as she drives it. She'll have to learn how to communicate with a crew chief to tell him what the car is doing. If the chief wants to know what the water temperature is she's going to have to eyeball the gauge on the dashboard and radio the information to him.

But Patrick is smart enough to also know that the venture into NASCAR will take some time before some positive tangible results appear. She only has to look at colleagues to realize that. It took Juan Pablo Montoya three years before he reached the NASCAR racing level he's enjoying today. It's also possible that she's had conversations with IRL champion, and her former team mate, Dario Franchitti. That was a NASCAR transition that didn't take and it was almost painful to watch.

Patrick will also have to make the adjustment for a brand new level of "life in the fish bowl." As a recognized star in the IRL she's had more than her fair share of media scrutiny especially this year. But I've got a feeling that her presence in NASCAR will lead to a level of attention that even she couldn't imagine. That frenzy has already hit a fever pitch. In a very brief period of time, last Wednesday, she single handedly knocked Jimmie Johnson's championship run right off of the front page of the NASCAR news. That action was based on a rumor that said there's an unsigned agreement that might be announced by the end of this month.

How long this NASCAR transition takes on the track remains to be seen. Off the track is an entirely different subject. Her impact on NASCAR and its fans will be huge. I just hope the souvenir manufacturers are ready for this. The lady is going to sell a lot of shirts, hats, jackets and, oh yes, let's not forget those bikini clad posters that everyone loves so much.

The professional liaison between Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr could turn out to be a marketing match made in heaven. They already have "Go Daddy Dot Com" in common. The Internet domain provider has sponsorship deals in place with both drivers. They also sponsor JR Motorsports' Chevrolets and will become the sponsor of Hendrick Motorsports #5 Sprint Cup car, with driver Mark Martin, next year.

The Danica Patrick NASCAR frenzy has officially hit high gear. Can you even imagine the level the frenzy is going to achieve once the agreement is signed and she actually climbs inside of a stock car?

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