Patrick to make NASCAR debut at Daytona |

Patrick to make NASCAR debut at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Danica Patrick will make her NASCAR debut this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

The IndyCar star will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports in Saturday’s second-tier Nationwide Series race.

The decision announced Monday to race at Daytona was made after team officials dissected her stock-car racing debut in the ARCA race at Daytona on Saturday. The team had left the option to race up to Patrick, who wanted to assess her first race before deciding whether to enter one of the most prestigious Nationwide races of the season.

Patrick overcame a midrace spin to finish sixth.

“Racing in the Nationwide Series race was my goal during this entire two-month preparation process, but we wanted to make sure it was the right thing to do,” Patrick said in a statement. “The ARCA race was a blast, and I’m not ready for my first Daytona Speedweeks to end just yet. I want more racing.”

Patrick had been hesitant to make her debut at Daytona because of the top talent that race attracts. Sprint Cup drivers have won nine of the last 10 Nationwide races here, and the lone exception was Martin Truex Jr., who won in 2005 in JR Motorsports car.

Patrick will be joined in the field by Dale Earnhardt Jr., her car owner. He has five wins and 10 top-10 finishes in 17 Nationwide races at Daytona.

Earnhardt will be driving JRM’s flagship No. 88, while Patrick will be in the car she will drive in 13 previously announced races. Her schedule after Daytona includes the Feb. 20 race at California and the Feb. 27 race at Las Vegas.

“I think Danica proved to everyone that she can compete in stock cars at a high level, and right now seat time is extremely important,” said Kelley Earnhardt, Earnhardt’s sister and the general manager and a part owner of JRM.

“She has worked extremely hard during the past two months for this opportunity. Her dedication and work ethic is infectious.”

JR Motorsports acquired the points from CJM Racing to ensure Patrick a spot in the field. CJM Racing finished 15th in the owner standings last season, but has suspended operations.

There’s been slight backlash against Patrick for taking the Daytona ride because many believed her decision to race cost Kelly Bires a seat.

“As everyone can see I will not be running Daytona. Very bummed out about it!” he posted on his Twitter account.

But Kelley Earnhardt said Patrick’s decision had no bearing on Bires, who is scheduled to drive the No. 88 this season.

A sponsorship agreement had Earnhardt Jr. contractually obligated to race in Daytona’s Nationwide event, so he actually replaced Bires for this one event. The second JR Motorsports car, the No. 7, is Patrick’s and Earnhardt said Bires would have only gotten that seat had Patrick elected not to race.

There was brief discussion of taking three cars to Daytona so that Bires could race, but Earnhardt said the sponsorship woes JR Motorsports is facing made the extra car unaffordable.

“I think it would have been different if we had sponsorship for the 88 for whole season, but at this moment we only have 12 races out of 35 with (sponsorship) contracts in hand,” Earnhardt said. “We are looking to run the balance of the season on our own dime for Kelly, and we just couldn’t make that expense to bring a third car.

“If Danica had decided not to race, then Kelly would have been the first choice to go in that car.”

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