The early read from SpeedWeeks?

- Contributor
Sunday, Feb. 07, 2010

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Four days of SpeedWeeks down and what do we know? Other than's sponsorship deal in the ARCA series this week being a better bargain for the dollar than instant noodles? Plenty.

1. Danica Patrick might be able to do this after all: The 27-year-old star of the IndyCar Series has been dismissed at almost every level of her career. Sometimes its been for sexist reasons, sometimes because her results have not calibrated proportionately with the attention she consumes.

And true, her only victory as a professional before and since her 2008 IndyCar win was in a pro/celebrity race in 2002. But she's always been competent, whether in the misogynist European formula ladder series or in the IRL.

And after finishing sixth in her stock car debut for JR Motorsports on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, it appears she may be able to at least handle this entirely new form of racing.

Yes, it was the ARCA series. Yes, her Hendrick Motorsports-prepared race car had a lot to do with her drive from the back of the pack to the front after a slide through the grass. But that car was also good enough to get her in a lot of trouble, too. And she was impressive in one of the most scrutinized on-the-job-training exercises in sports history.

So she and her handlers are ready to take the next step and jump into NASCAR's Naionwide Series. They've thrown her helmet into the ring for Saturday's race at Daytona.

She seems to understand that she is still miles behind the drivers in NASCAR's No. 2 series, but most observers – at JR Motorsports and elsewhere – conceded on Saturday that there may be a stock car driver in that tiny person.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. might have found his fastball: Sure, it's Daytona and Earnhardt has a certain aptitude at restrictor-plate tracks. No, success here isn't necessarily an indicator of a strong season, and, really, all he's done so far is go fast in practice and qualifying. No points for that.

But Hendrick Motorsports expended great energy in the offseason - including moving Mark Martin's lead race engineer to Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet – and the early returns are positive. Earnhardt's lap of 190.913 mph in qualifying was beaten only Martin's 191.188. Which suggests ...

3. The 5/88 shop at Hendrick Motorsports might have something for the 24-48: Again, it's early, not even close to the Jimmie Johnson time of year. And counting Jeff Gordon's championship total and Johnson's four in a row, the 24/48 building is ahead 8-0.

But Rick Hendrick's mandate to energize Earnhardt’s program – through Earnhardt crew chief Lance McGrew and dutifully supported by Mark Martin crew chief Alan Gustafson – might make HMS a real four-car team. As Johnson puts it, "With the lineup of guys we've got, if we just worry about beating each other, in a very friendly competitive way, it's on."

And that's bad for everyone else ... except NASCAR's marketing department, which would probably smile widely at the prospect of the sport's most popular figure and one of its most respected names competing at a high level.

4. Danica Patrick's buzz-generation abilities seem to work in stock cars, too: In the spirit of DanicaWeeks ... more Danica. Virtually all of her rapid, prancy steps through the ARCA garage were well-documented.

Cameras and autograph hounds followed, if they could keep up. Her radio chatter was scanned, her lap times parsed. Competitively, Patrick is likely to be a middling competitor in the Nationwide Series this season, as was the case with other open-wheel veterans who came over to see what life was like with roll cages over their heads.

But she'll instantly become one of the most recognized, scrutinized and sought-after personalities.

Patrick is convinced that she'll be able to handle the rigors of a part-time NASCAR schedule built around a full-time 17-race IndyCar Series slate without either venture suffering. Her reasoning: she's on the road every weekend anyway, leveraging her marketability through photo and commercial shoots, personal appearances.

That will remain to be seen.

Either way, her presence in the Nationwide Series could inject those race weekends with a lot of adrenaline. And there's value in that to all involved.

5. Kyle Busch has facets: Like on a diamond ring, the kind he put on fiancée Samantha Sarcinella's finger in the motor coach they designed together. The 24-year-old with a history of rowdy behavior – so much so it’s his nickname – has made several strides toward domesticity this offseason, launching his own NASCAR truck series team and being re-signed by a Sprint Cup team (Joe Gibbs Racing) for the first time.

The next logical step – and an increasing trend within the series – would be fatherhood. Continue to monitor Twitter account for details. That's how nuptial news spread on Friday.