Earnhardt impressed with Danica

FONTANA, Calif. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday he has the utmost respect for Danica Patrick, the driver he hopes to sign to race a few Nationwide Series events next season for his JR Motorsports team.

"I like Danica a lot," Earnhardt said. "I consider myself friends with her. It's interesting to see her interest in NASCAR. It's interesting for all of us. If we're a piece of that and we play a part in that, we'll have to see going down the road."

Earnhardt said it is all in the hands of his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, his business manager.

"Kelley's been managing the conversations between Danica and our team," Earnhardt said. "It's still in the early stages. I haven't really gotten in the middle of it.

"We've been working like hell to focus on this car [the No. 88 Chevy Cup car Earnhardt drives for Hendrick Motorsports], so I'm not as involved in it as much as I'd like to be. I have to call and get updates, but Kelley is going to do a good job. She always has."

JR Motorsports is trying to reach a deal for Patrick to drive in eight to 10 Nationwide races next year. She is expected to continue to race full-time in the IndyCar Series for Andretti Green Racing.

Many people in racing have offered their opinions on whether Patrick can race competitively in NASCAR. Earnhardt Jr. believes in her ability.

"She's made it to the top level of motorsports in open wheel in North America," Earnhardt said. "Any driver in that position has talent. She's very competitive and has an extremely competitive side to her around the race track and in and around her program."

Earnhardt, who turns 35 on Saturday, said he is impressed with Patrick's overall discipline and attitude toward racing.

"She has a lot of those intangible values in a race car driver that are really important, things you don't learn," Earnhardt said. "You learn how to drive cars and go around race tracks, but there a lot of things inside when it comes to initiative and willpower. It's just passion. You either have it or you don't."

Earnhardt clearly thinks Patrick has that passion to succeed.

"She's really dedicated to it," he said. "She's dedicated to keeping herself in shape and having every personal advantage she can have. She has high expectations of herself."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com.