The Danica Patrick NASCAR era begins Saturday

Danica Patrick eyes 'solid race' as NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Daytona nears.
Nationwide Series driver Trevor Bayne sat behind a small table at NASCAR Media Day last week at Daytona International Speedway, fielding questions from two or three reporters. Nearby, Danica Patrick was answering questions, too.

But Patrick was so swamped with media that a NASCAR representative had to make sure there was enough room for her.

“Well, I've got about four people over here, and she's got about 27,” Bayne said with a laugh.

Yes, the IndyCar star is creating quite a stir in the NASCAR world as she makes her debut in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports in Saturday's Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona. But her fellow drivers don't seem to mind Patrick getting a little more attention.

“I think it's good for Nationwide, good for NASCAR and all my other sponsors,” Braun Racing's Jason Leffler said. “I think she'll bring a lot of attention to the series.”

“She may bring a little bit different demographic than what a lot of NASCAR fans are, which is a good thing,” Roush Fenway Racing's Colin Braun said. “The more people are excited about NASCAR, the better.”

Race fans are clearly excited about Patrick, whose appearance in the ARCA race at Daytona last weekend led to a 59 percent increase in television ratings for that event.

Even Patrick's car owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr. - the sport's most popular driver - joked about Patrick's impact.

“A lot of attention - for her, not me,” Earnhardt said. “This might be the first time we don't have to weave through cameras and media reporters when walking to our car, because they'll be in Danica's garage. She handles it well, and we'll try to make sure it's not a distraction this weekend.

“We are there to do a job. It's a big race for our sponsors, and it's a big race for our sport. A lot of people will be paying attention to this race this Saturday.”

Patrick decided to drive in the Daytona Nationwide race after finishing sixth in the ARCA event, saying her level of uncertainty decreased after running the ARCA race. She's still a raw rookie, even if she'll have one of the best superspeedway racers in Earnhardt as a team-mate. That means her goals for Saturday's race are modest.

“I want to do this the right way,” Patrick said. “The biggest thing is to get the car comfortable for me in practice. Our team spent a lot of time in practice for last week's race, and I think it paid off in the long run. Again, I just want to run a solid race. I want to log laps and be part of the action. I understand the draft a bit better than before, so I want the chance to work with some of the other drivers.”

by Lee Montgomery / Special to the Sporting News

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Danica Patrick and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. made for a formidable team in the ARCA race at Daytona Beach in 2010, Patrick`s first outing in a stock car [Motorsports Images & Archives]

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