2009-12-17 / Sports

Danica To NASCAR

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

Danica Patrick Danica Patrick Indy-car racer Danica Patrick will join NASCAR for a limited number of Nationwide Series races in 2010 for JR Motorsports.

While NASCAR CEO Brian France said she would be a “shot in the arm” for NASCAR, it remains to be seen how well she will adapt to the cars.

“It’s going to be challenging,” Patrick said. “It’s a new car. It’s a new craft. These are much different than what I drive – you can tell that quite obviously.”

“We’ve all been working for some time to bring this all together, so there’s much relief there. I’m starting to get a bit nervous now that it’s time for me to get out there and do my part of the deal in these cars and perform. It’s no doubt going to be challenging but we’re real excited to get moving on it. It’s time now to get to business and learn these cars.”

By comparison, she has one win in 81 career starts while driving for some of the best teams in the Indy Racing League. She’s led 110 laps in five years of IRL action, and more than half of that came as a rookie. She’s never finished better than fifth in the points.

Drivers with a better performance level than Patrick, Sam Hornish and Dario Franchitti, struggled to make the transition to stock cars, and that’s even with the advantage of driving every week, not a part-time schedule, as Patrick will do.

So why all the fuss about her? She’s hot-tempered for one thing, and her outbursts make great news. She also has an American flag tattoo, located between pieces of a bikini.

Still, Patrick will require sufficient seat time. Kelley Earnhardt, vice president and general manager for JRM, wasn’t certain how much testing Patrick will get in between next week’s session and the start of the season. But Earnhardt, a former racer herself, says she’ll make sure Patrick will have enough testing to where she “feels comfortable.”

“We still have a lot of things going on and a lot to work out,” Earnhardt said. “But Tony Jr. (crew chief Eury) is very excited about working with her and excited about her potential. Being in JR Motorsports’ garage she’ll be in a quality car, in a competitive car. With the leadership we’ll put behind her with our team – with Tony Sr. and Tony Jr. – I think it’s reasonable for her to be in the top-15 in the series when she’s running.”

Patrick will make her first NASCAR start in the Feb. 20 Nationwide Series race at Fontana, Calif.

We’ll have to wait and see how this deal turns out.

While the car driven by Patrick will have sponsorship, JRM is still searching for full sponsorship for the No. 88 car.

“We’ve got irons in the fire, but we’ve had irons in the fire for months,” Dale Jr. said. “I’m a little worried about that. I’d like to run (the 88 car) full season next year. I think the Nationwide Series is better with that car running a full season. But the possibilities of that happening do not look really good right now.”

Other NASCAR news

Michael Waltrip said he now thinks he’ll only run the four Cup restrictor-plate races next year (unless more sponsorship is found). As for Nationwide? “I’d like to run some Nationwide races, I’d like to run some Truck races, so I’m still just seeing what’s out there,” he said. “I’ll do anything, I just want to race every now and then.” Mikey said he’ll be back on Speed’s broadcast of the Truck races next year.

Kyle Busch announced that he will enter two Toyota Tundras full time in the Camping World Truck Series beginning in 2010.

Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM), which has fielded numerous Late Model stock cars for Busch and others since late 2007, will step up to the Truck Series with youth behind the wheel and experience on top of the pit box.

Busch will pilot the No. 18 whenever the Truck Series runs in companion with the Cup Series. For the non-companion races, the No. 18 Tundra will be driven by 24-year-old Brian Ickler (pronounced “IKE-ler”). Running the full schedule for KBM will be 20-year-old Tayler Malsam in the No. 56 Toyota Tundra.

“Everyone knows how much I love to race, and the Truck Series is one of my favorite places to race, so to be a team owner in this series is a perfect match,” said Busch, who has 16 career Camping World Truck Series victories and a combined 62 wins among NASCAR’s top three divisions. “We started KBM two years ago with the Late Model program and this seemed like the next natural step. I’m also very pleased with our driver lineup – having young and talented guys like Tayler Malsam and Brian Ickler.”

Busch recently purchased the assets of Xpress Motorsports, the Truck Series team that finished the 2009 season among the top 10 in points. KBM will operate from the Xpress Motorsports shop in Mooresville, N.C., until its new shop is completed.

Overseeing the three-driver, two-truck outfit will be Rick Ren, who will serve as the team’s director of competition. The 52- year-old is a NASCAR veteran who won two Camping World Truck Series championships as crew chief for Ron Hornaday Jr., (2007 and 2009) while at Kevin Harvick Inc.

Racing trivia question: What year did Dale Jarrett win his only Cup championship?

Last week’s question: What year did Mark Martin first compete in the Cup series? Answer. His first career start was in 1981 at North Wilkesboro.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at: hodgesnews@earthlink.net.

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