Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Updated: November 6, 4:48 PM ET
Sources: Danica near NASCAR deal
By Ryan McGee
ESPN The Magazine
IndyCar Series and crossover media star Danica Patrick is nearing completion of a two-year contract with JR Motorsports, the NASCAR Nationwide Series operation owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., and a source close to the negotiations described the talks as being "in the final phase."
A second source close to the situation confirmed the deal is moving forward, saying "talks are moving in a very positive direction and it would probably be a surprise if it didn't happen."
Both the Patrick and Earnhardt camps declined comment when reached Wednesday, but Earnhardt told SceneDaily.com that other teams also continue to talk to Patrick about a future in NASCAR.
"She's really serious about coming to NASCAR. A lot of people, I guess, thought that it was just a media hoax or her kind of blowing smoke," Earnhardt Jr. said Wednesday night. "She's really serious about it, and she's going to do it with somebody."
Before Brad Keselowski signed with Penske Racing South, JR Motorsports had no room for Patrick -- and thus little interest -- sources close to negotiations between the team and driver told ESPN.com's Marty Smith. But when Keselowski jumped to Sprint Cup with Penske, JRM jumped headfirst into the Patrick sweepstakes.
Sources close to negotiations told Smith on Wednesday a deal is expected to be completed within a week or 10 days, but likely won't be formally announced until the offseason. NASCAR's Chase for the Cup playoffs culminate with the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami on Nov. 22.
Sources also told Smith the first race on Patrick's tentative schedule is the ARCA event at Daytona Speedweeks. Depending on whether she is approved by NASCAR to run the Daytona Nationwide Series event in February, Patrick plans to run 12 or 13 Nationwide races in 2010, sources said.
If Patrick is not approved by NASCAR, she would likely debut at Auto Club Speedway the following week.
Patrick met with Rick Hendrick, owner of Sprint Cup juggernaut Hendrick Motorsports, which supplies support to JR Motorsports, for the first time just two weeks ago due to scheduling conflicts. Hendrick at the time made a "big commitment" to her that he would continue to support thoroughly the JRM effort, sources told Smith.
Since then, talks have intensified.
Sources told ESPN's David Newton that Patrick is negotiating to drive the No. 7, her number in IndyCar. That would replace the No. 5, the second car at JRM. She would split that ride with Earnhardt Jr. and one or more other drivers.
Sources said GoDaddy.com, which already sponsors Patrick in the IndyCar Series, is expected to be the primary sponsor for the car.
Contrary to reports that Patrick will make $300,000 a race, sources said she would make in line of the typical Nationwide salary -- between $50,000 and $100,000 a race.
"She's not in it for the money," a source said. "She's in it for the experience."
Patrick, the 2005 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year and the first woman to win an IndyCar Series race, will continue to race full-time for Andretti Green Racing in IndyCar.
|Danica Patrick could begin her stock car racing career at Daytona Speedweeks if a deal with JR Motorsports is completed.|
Sources told ESPN.com's Marty Smith that, at present, the first race on Patrick's tentative schedule is the ARCA event at Daytona Speedweeks. Depending on whether or not she is approved by NASCAR to run the Daytona Nationwide Series event in February, Patrick plans to run 12 or 13 Nationwide races in 2010, sources said.
Patrick signed a three-year contract extension with AGR earlier this year, leading many to believe that she had put any NASCAR plans on hold. While the relatively sparse IndyCar schedule -- 17 races spread over seven and a half months -- leaves plenty of room to run a number of other events, calendar conflicts between the two series appear to make running the full Nationwide schedule all but impossible.
"Danica Watch" has been a season-long source of headlines and garage gossip in IndyCar and NASCAR throughout the 2009 season, as the 27-year-old driver made repeated trips to North Carolina to chat with potential stock car suitors, including Tony Stewart's Stewart-Haas Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. A decision to sign with JR Motorsports would establish a direct tie to Hendrick, which supplies engines, cars and technical assistance to Earnhardt's operation -- as well as Stewart's.
Earnhardt and Patrick already have a corporate connection, in current sponsorship deals with GoDaddy.com. The Web site registration service is a sponsor on JR Motorsports' No. 88 Chevrolet, which has earned four Nationwide Series wins this season with Keselowski at the wheel.
GoDaddy.com also recently signed on to sponsor Hendrick's No. 5 Chevy beginning in 2010. That car is currently driven by Mark Martin, who is signed through 2011.
As recently as last weekend, some Sprint Cup stars, most notably open-wheel defector Juan Pablo Montoya, have suggested that Patrick concentrate on running one series only instead of jumping back and forth from IndyCar to stock cars. Patrick herself has openly expressed reservations about diving into NASCAR's notoriously long schedule.
But even those who have advised her to resist the temptation to double dip admit that the potential financial windfall might be worth the grind of logistics and the learning curve of stock car racing.
Patrick made headlines in April 2008 when she won an IndyCar race at Twin Ring Motegi, the first for a woman in a major American non-drag racing series. She was the first woman to lead a lap at the Indianapolis 500, in 2005.
No woman has ever won a race in any of NASCAR's top three national series. The last regular female competitor in the NASCAR Nationwide Series was Patty Moise, who started 22 of 26 races in what was then known as the Busch Series in 1995. Shawna Robinson won the pole position for a Busch Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1994.
Ryan McGee covers motorsports for ESPN The Magazine; Marty Smith covers NASCAR for ESPN and ESPN.com. ESPN.com senior writers Ed Hinton and David Newton contributed to this story.