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A very full plate

Danica Patrick will run Indy, stock cars

I don't want to say Danica Patrick has gnawed off far more than she can chew. But she's gnawed off far more than she can chew.

In case you missed it, ESPN reported yesterday that Patrick is about to sign a deal with JR Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Nationwide Series team.

Supposedly the deal would begin in February with Patrick driving in an ARCA race at Daytona. It would also be a two-way contract of sorts, enabling her to run a fair number of Nationwide races while at the same time keeping her full-time IndyCar seat with Andretti Green.

Now, I know Patrick's confidence in her own abilities has never been lacking. It's why she's the most accomplished and relentlessly competitive woman ever to kick in the door to big-time auto racing, one of the last bastions of testosterone abuse left standing.

But this seems a trifle ambitious even for her. Stock cars, as more than one person has observed, are an entirely different animal than IndyCars. It takes seat time, and lots of it, to master them. And even the most accomplished drivers find it daunting; look how many seasons it's taken Juan Pablo Montoya, a former Indianapolis 500 and F1 champion and the best pure racer on the Sprint Cup circuit today, to become a major factor in the series.

And that was with Montoya focusing solely and relentlessly on NASCAR.

Patrick is nowhere close to being in Montoya's league. And yet she's trying to do something he didn't even attempt.

Understand this about Patrick: She got where she is because she's exactly what racing admires in its male competitors but loathes in her -- cocky, combative, prickly and frankly not a very nice person sometimes. And -- let's pull no punches here -- she's also an attractive woman in a man's sport, which is why she's such a marketing monster despite having just one win in her IndyCar career.

On the other hand, she's no Anna Kournikova. She can race. Her average finish across her IndyCar career is 10th. That's better than a lot of her male counterparts whose skills aren't questioned nearly as much as hers are.

That doesn't mean she's ready for this, though.

If she really means to be successful in stock cars -- and not use them as just another marketing opportunity -- she needs to do what Montoya did, and commit to them fully. Even at that it's going to take time, and there's no guarantee she'll ever be truly successful in NASCAR. But trying to do both stock cars and IndyCar will virtually ensure she won't be successful -- or at the very least, severely lengthen her learning curve.

Ben Smith's blog.

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