Danica Patrick hasn't jumped to NASCAR yet, but Danicamania has arrived in full force.
With the 2009 season winding down and the IndyCar star talking with NASCAR teams about driving in the Nationwide Series for next season, the Cup garage is awash in rumor and innuendo over when and where she might finally sign. Patrick's representatives are negotiating with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s organization over a potential ride at JR Motorsports for part of next season, but a team spokesman said this week there was nothing to report.
So that leaves the waiting, the watching, and the lingering questions. Will this be sewn up in time to make an announcement two weeks from now at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the logical place to unveil a Patrick car for Speed Weeks 2010? Will talks break down due to Patrick's reportedly exorbitant salary demands? Will a driver with one career IndyCar victory be able to successfully transition into heavier stock-cars without the glue-like grip and steering-assist devices she's accustomed to in open-wheel?
Heading to JRM?
Rumors were circulating that Danica Patrick was going to sign with JR Motorsports. Bill Kimm and CNN's Michael Jones discuss the possible partnership of Patrick and Junior.
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JRM talking to Danica
Stewart says Danica interested
"The cars are so drastically different," Jeff Gordon, who drove sprint and midget cars before breaking into NASCAR, said at Texas Motor Speedway. "Going from one type of a car to another that is that drastically different is only going to make it that much more challenging. But she's never going to know what it's like to drive one of these cars until she gets out there and does it in competition. And, you know, so again I give her credit for trying. You can only wait and see how it goes."
Tony Stewart said in late August that Patrick was serious about running a partial NASCAR schedule in addition to her full slate in the IndyCar Series -- a plan identical to the one Stewart himself used to transition from open-wheel into stock cars. In the weeks since, the speculation has only intensified, with a handful of teams talking with her representatives at some level. In early October, Rick Hendrick told SI.com that Patrick's representatives at International Management Group were negotiating with JR Motorsports about a limited slate of ARCA and Nationwide events in a car sponsored by GoDaddy.com.
"Obviously, I can see where her motivation is," Brian Vickers said. "IndyCars, that series has been struggling a lot, especially ever since the [1996 open-wheel] split. It's only getting worse right now. NASCAR is the predominant motorsports here in America. She's seeing that as an opportunity. I think she can bring a lot to our sport, especially if she can be successful."
Can Patrick succeed in NASCAR? As far as victories go, her resume is somewhat light -- one win in 81 starts on the IndyCar circuit, at Motegi, Japan, last season. Much more accomplished open-wheel drivers, from Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti to multiple Champ Car race winner Patrick Carpentier, have come to NASCAR and experienced only moderate success. It's taken three years for Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Montoya, both former Indy 500 champions, to find their footing in stock cars.
"The biggest thing for her is going to be patience," Vickers said. "It has nothing to do with being her, she really just has [only] IndyCar experience, which is absolutely nothing to do with our cars. They're complete opposites. We have a lot of power, little to no downforce. Big, heavy cars, very different driving style and different races. Double-file restarts. We're door-to-door and three-wide, beating and banging in very close contact. Coming from open-wheel, there's a long learning experience there if they ever can adapt. Even the ones that do, I think Juan has proven to be the most successful of them recently. It still took him three years to even get to where he is now."
Many drivers believe that with time, she could adapt. But she will also attempt a foray into NASCAR while still competing on the 17-race IndyCar schedule, which means leaping back and forth between two entirely different cars. What if she doesn't do well?
"Then she doesn't do well," Carl Edwards said. "There are a lot of people who have come over here and not been able to do well, and I think Juan Montoya is the best example, to me, of a guy who has huge talent, who came over and had a mass of success in other things, and was able to do it. He's as good as any of us over here now, so if she doesn't do it, I don't think it would be a huge surprise."