Patrick sets date for NASCAR debut

MOORESVILLE, N.C. --- Danica Patrick will ease her way into NASCAR by skipping the Nationwide Series opener at Daytona International Speedway in favor of a less-stressful debut one week later at California.

 

The IndyCar star is still working on piecing together a 13-race schedule for JR Motorsports in NASCAR's second-tier series, but she announced Thursday she's marked the Feb. 20 race at Auto Club Speedway for her debut.

JR Motorsports also will field a car for Patrick in the Feb. 27 race at Las Vegas.

Although Patrick will make her stock-car debut in the Feb. 6 ARCA opener at Daytona, she will not attempt the Nationwide race. The opener is usually stacked with NASCAR's top talent, and Sprint Cup drivers have won nine of the past 10 Nationwide races at Daytona. The lone exception was Martin Truex Jr., who won in 2005 in JR Motorsports car.

"The race is basically a Cup race, some 30 odd drivers in Cup run in it," she said. "So, is that the right time for me to start or not? You only get one grand opening, so I've heard. We want it to be the right opportunity."

Patrick made her first appearance with new boss Dale Earnhardt Jr. since announcing a two-year contract last week to try NASCAR for JR Motorsports, the team owned in combination by Rick Hendrick, Earnhardt, his sister, Kelley, and their cousin, Tony Eury Jr.

Sitting on a stage at JR Motorsports flanked by her new team, she fielded questions from reporters before it was opened up to two preselected fans in attendance, as well as one question submitted through Facebook.

"I don't ever think I've seen as much power up on stage in NASCAR as I do today," Kelley Earnhardt said.

She wasn't lying. This partnership combines the most marketable drivers in America's top two racing series, and with it will come a tremendous amount of attention.

Patrick, 27, signed a three-year contract extension earlier this month with Andretti Autosport that will keep her racing full-time in IndyCar. But already the pressure is on: one fan in attendance asked Patrick who will win first in 2010, Earnhardt, JRM driver Kelly Bires or Patrick?

"It's probably not going to be me," she joked.

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