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Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Danica hype only heightens Friday

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

An offseason ARCA test usually garners about as much attention from the media as a bingo game at the local nursing home.

That will change come Friday when Danica Patrick takes the driver's seat in a stock car at Daytona. Never before in history has a December ARCA test meant so much to so many.

Reporters who previously wouldn't give this test session a second thought will be at the track to see how it goes for Patrick. Our own David Newton has graciously given up his last shopping weekend before Christmas to attend the test. ESPN's Mike Massaro also will report from Daytona.

Andrew Booth, PR manager at Daytona International Speedway, admits this test will be a little different.

Milka Duno
Milka Duno is also ready to give ARCA a try at this weekend's Daytona test.

"We had Joey Logano down here in the ARCA test last year, so that brought some attention," Booth said Monday. "We always have some intrigue, but Danica definitely has taken it to a new level.

"Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, ESPN and many others are coming. We've seen a lot of interest from media outlets around the country."

Patrick will hold a news conference at JR Motorsports headquarters Thursday in Mooresville, N.C., before flying to Daytona. She won't be the only woman getting some media attention this weekend.

Let's not leave out IndyCar Series driver Milka Duno, who will attempt to steal some of the limelight away from her female rival. Duno will test the No. 9 Toyota for Braun Racing.

"This will be a new challenge for me and one that I've been looking forward to," Duno said in a press release. "I know it won't be easy. It will be hard work, but work that I'm ready to take on."

Duno holds the record for the highest finish by a female driver in the 24 Hours of Daytona, with a second-place showing in the team-driver event in 2007.

At least eight women are planning to test at Daytona this weekend. But let's face it, this is Danica's show, a little pre-Christmas sample of how she can handle a stock car.

It's just the beginning folks. It's going to get bigger and crazier from here.

***

Marshall Carlson, general manager of Hendrick Motorsports says hold off on those assumptions that Danica Patrick will replace Mark Martin in 2012.

"There's been no discussion [with Patrick] around Cup racing," Carlson told the Roanoke Times at the Motor Sport Business Forum in Orlando. "To her credit, she's been very focused on going at this thing incrementally.

"I don't know where things will go. None of us do at this point, but, absolutely, the door is open to talented drivers in our Cup cars."

GoDaddy.com is sponsoring Patrick in a JR Motorsports Nationwide car this coming season. GoDaddy also is the primary sponsor for Martin in the No. 5 Cup car for the next two seasons.

So a logical step would be Patrick's replacing Martin in 2012 when Martin's contract ends at Hendrick and Patrick goes into an option year with Andretti Autosport in the IRL.

"Totally a coincidence," Carlson said.

Note to self: Save these quotes for the end of 2011.

***

If Mark Martin can race successfully in Sprint Cup at 50, why can't seven-time champion Michael Schumacher come back and do it in Formula One at 41?

Michael Schumacher
Is Michael Schumacher ready to be No. 1 again?

It appears we're going to find out. Several publications in Europe are reporting that Schumacher has reached a contract agreement to race for the newly formed Mercedes factory team (the former Brawn team, which won the 2009 title) in 2010. An announcement is expected within a couple of weeks.

Martin finished second in the 2009 Cup standings in his return to full-time racing. That's the difference here. Martin never really retired. He drove in 24 of 36 events in 2007 and 2008.

Schumacher hasn't competed in a F1 race in the past three seasons. That's a long time to be away from the action.

He almost came back in 2009 to replace injured Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, but a neck injury from a motorcycle accident hadn't healed completely, so Schumacher stayed on the sidelines.

The issue here isn't age as much as it is rust. Schumi has a lot of it to knock off to get back to where he was.

***

Jenson Button, the 2009 F1 champ, and 2008 champ Lewis Hamilton now are teammates at McLaren-Mercedes. Uh, good luck with that one.

F1 teams always say they don't have a No. 1 and No. 2 driver, and it's always baloney. So, can two recent champions co-exist on the same team?

This is the first time in F1 history that a team has started a season with the two most recent champions.

"I think it's a mistake by Jenson," former F1 champ Jackie Stewart told the BBC last month. "It will be difficult for him to take on Lewis Hamilton. It's like walking into the lion's den."

The last time two champs shared a garage all season was 1989 when Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost became bitter rivals.

Prost won the 1989 championship and Senna was second, one year after winning his first F1 crown. By 1990, Prost was gone to Ferrari and Senna won the title in '90 and 1991.

Now it's Button and Hamilton trying to beat each other while remaining "pals'' in team meetings. Whatever happens, it will be fun to watch.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.