Danica Patrick acknowledged that her stock car apprenticeship will be a significant challenge, but she's confident she has the right team behind her to make it a success. Patrick and sponsor GoDaddy.com announced earlier today that she will run a partial NASCAR Nationwide Series season in 2010 for JR Motorsports, starting with the season opener at Daytona.
The IndyCar star will drive the No. 7 GoDaddy Chevrolet in a yet-to-be-determined number of races, having signed a two-year deal with the outfit owned by Rick Hendrick and Sprint Cup star Dale Earnhardt Jr., together with Dale's sister Kelley (who manages JRM's day-to-day operations) and his former crew chief, Tony Eury Jr. Patrick's stock car race debut will take place on Feb. 6 in the ARCA RE/MAX Series at Daytona, before entering the Nationwide Series race a week later at the same venue, in what will be her first NASCAR-sanctioned event.
"It's going to be a challenge and I have a lot to learn," said Patrick. "But with the resources that Kelley has at her team, with Dale and the extended Hendrick family, I think this is a great opportunity to learn as fast as possible – but there's no necessary time frame on that. We're just going to hit the ground running and do the best that we can.
"I'm very excited. We've all been working very hard for some time to bring these all together," she added. "There's much relief there, but I'm starting to get a little bit nervous and now it's time to do my part of the deal and get out there in these cars and perform. It's no doubt going to be challenging."
Patrick will start her stock car apprenticeship next week when she takes part in an ARCA test at Daytona. Further tests may happen before she gets back to Daytona for the ARCA and Nationwide Series races in February.
The rest of her schedule has yet to be determined but should be set within the next two weeks according to JR Motorsports officials. Patrick is expected to compete in at least the first three and the last six events of the season, after stressing once again that most of her outings will happen before and after the IndyCar season, which remains her primary focus for now.
"It is going to be demanding," said Patrick. "It's going to be a very full schedule, that's for sure. I'm ready for it. I think when the idea and the rumors came about a few years ago to run some NASCAR stuff I wasn't quite as prepared mentally as I am now.
"Over the years, I've had an increasingly busy schedule and I feel like there almost will be more consistency to the schedule than what I've had in the past year or two. I'm finally ready. I think that the schedule doesn't intimidate me as it used to, but there's going to be a lot to learn."
Kelley Earnhardt expects Patrick to contend for top-15 finishes in her first year in the Nationwide Series but asked for her new driver to be given the time to learn before her performance is judged.
"She's obviously going to be in a quality car, [a] competitive car," said Earnhardt. "I think it's reasonable for her to be in the top 15 of the series when she's running.
"Obviously, the first few races will see what that brings, but she's got to get in there and get used to the cars and hopefully everybody will remember that and not be so quick to judge, which is easy to do, and so give her the same respect and time to get the feel for these cars as other people have had."
Patrick is looking forward to the close wheel-to-wheel racing of NASCAR and promises to be extremely respectful toward her rivals on the track.
"I'm not going to lie – the wheel-to-wheel bumping certainly looks exciting to me, too," said Patrick. "I will be incredibly respectful but the fact that our wheels won't touch is very new to me and it reminds me of being back in go-karting, again with bumpers. But that's really what I'm looking for, the wheel-to-wheel action."
Kelley Earnhardt confirmed that Eury Jr. will work with Patrick in her debut season in NASCAR.