Though he's not directly involved in the discussions, Dale Earnhardt Jr acknowledged Friday at Auto Club Speedway that his JR Motorsports organisation has been talking to IndyCar Series star Danica Patrick about her foray into NASCAR racing.
The talks have been the province of his sister, Kelley Earnhardt, JRM's general manager. Earnhardt Jr, however, expressed respect for Patrick's ability and determination.
Recent reports have Patrick negotiating to drive selected races in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series next season. Given the relationship with GoDaddy.com, which sponsors Patrick's IndyCar as well as JRM's #88 Chevrolet in the Nationwide Series, JRM is a logical place for her to try her hand in a stock car. In the eve of his 35th birthday, however, Earnhardt seemed more concerned with his lack of speed in time trials for Sunday's Pepsi 500 at the two-mile track.
"Kelley's been managing the conversations between Danica and our team solely and entirely on her own," Earnhardt confirmed, "That's in the early stages, I would suppose. I haven't really got in the middle of it. We've been on the road, and we're working like hell all this month and next month, so I'm not involved in it as much as I'd like to be.
"I have to call and get updates on what the heck is going on with our sponsor searches [for JRM] and all these other things. So it's pretty frustrating, but I've got good people in the right places to handle all that stuff. Kelley's going to do a good job - always has - so I can focus on what I've got going on with this car here."
Earnhardt expressed positive feelings toward having Patrick in one of the cars he co-owns with Rick Hendrick. Kelly Bires will drive full-time for JRM next year, replacing Brad Keselowski, who is departing to drive a Sprint Cup car for Penske Racing in 2010.
"I like Danica a lot," Earnhardt said, "I consider myself friends with her, and it's interesting to see her interest in NASCAR. It's interesting for all of us - everybody. If we're a piece of that, and if we play a part in that, we'll see, going down the road. Right now, it's just Kelley and her having a few phone conversations about it, and it really hasn't gotten any further than that, as far as I know."
Earnhardt believes Patrick possesses formidable intangible qualities as well as the talent to drive a racecar.
"She's made it to the top level of motorsports in open-wheel in North America, and any driver in that position has talent. She's very competitive - she has an extremely competitive side to her around the racetrack and in and around her programme. She's really dedicated to it. She's dedicated to keeping herself in shape and having every personal advantage she can have, and she has high expectations of herself.
"She has a lot of those intangible values in a racecar driver that are really important, that you don't learn. You learn how to drive cars, and you learn how to go around racetracks, but there's a lot of things inside when it comes to initiative and willpower and passion that either you have or you don't."
by Reid Spencer / Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service