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Monday, February 8, 2010
Danica making a huge jump to race Saturday

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Using a baseball analogy, Danica Patrick is going from one impressive showing in a Class A game to a Triple-A league in one week.

That sounds pretty imposing. Actually, it's much worse.

The reality is Patrick is going from a weak Class A league to a Triple-A game with almost all big leaguers in the lineup.

That gives you some idea of the jump Patrick is making to race in the Nationwide Series event at Daytona on Saturday (1 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

And that's why the people around her were hesitant at first to commit to having her race in the Daytona show.

"It's pretty much a [Sprint] Cup race," Kelley Earnhardt, Patrick's boss at JR Motorsports, said during the media tour. "So many Cup drivers will be in it, Dale [Earnhardt] Jr., Tony Stewart and many others. She knows how important it is for her to have the respect of the other drivers."

Patrick earned some respect with her remarkable showing in the ARCA event Saturday night at Daytona, finishing sixth after almost crashing and working her way back to the front in the final laps.

Most observers came away from that race believing Patrick greatly exceeded expectations. It all but forced JR Motorsports to put Patrick in the Nationwide race this weekend.

This isn't just any old Nationwide race. It's probably is the most difficult Nationwide event of the season.

Many of the best drivers in Sprint Cup will compete in the race. They are pros at knowing how to use the draft in a high-speed restrictor-plate event in which the cars are bumping and banging on every lap.

Patrick got her feet wet in that style of stock car racing last weekend, but ARCA is not NASCAR, and it's certainly not a Daytona Nationwide event.

Patrick is on top of the world at the moment after her impressive showing in her stock car debut. Expectations for her first NASCAR race were high enough before that event. Now they're through the roof.

Back to the baseball analogy: Danica doubled off the wall in her first Class A at-bat. But she's playing in The Show now, so don't expect the same results.

If she brings the car home in one piece and finishes in the top 20, tip your hat to her and realize she made an equally impressive effort in a much tougher game.