Danica can do. That was the lesson learned last Saturday during the ARCA series test session at Daytona International Speedway. Driving a stock car in traffic for the first time, Danica Patrick deftly rode the draft and made seamless passes around the 2.5-mile tri-oval, showing that she's ready to take on the 3,200-pound vehicles (more than double the weight of the Indy cars she's driven for the last five seasons). Patrick was only 19th out of 63 cars on the speed chart in practice, but it was an impressive first step as she prepares to make her debut in the ARCA series (essentially stock car's A ball) on Feb. 6 at Daytona.
"I was surprised at how comfortable I was," Patrick said later. "Man, I just love these cars."
Patrick plans to remain on the IndyCar circuit for all of 2010, but she'll also compete in 13 Nationwide events and a handful of ARCA races as part of a two-year deal signed earlier this month with JR Motorsports, which is co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick. If she is competitive, she could be racing full time in the Cup Series by 2012. That might be just in time to take Mark Martin's seat at Hendrick Motorsports; Martin is expected to retire after the 2011 season.
Last weekend Patrick showed the kind of impact she can have on NASCAR, which has suffered falling TV ratings and attendance for the last two years. A dozen camera crews and nine photographers shadowed her every move—and that was just for an ARCA practice. Said Patrick, "I definitely felt like I was on the hot seat."
She was. And she should get used to it.