No doubts about qualifications
Stewart confident Patrick will succeed as Cup rookie
Danica Patrick smiles as she speaks with a member of the media in a breakout session, during the NASCAR Media Tour, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, in Concord, N.C. (AP Photo/The Charlotte Observer, Jeff Siner) MAGS OUT TV OUT
Danica Patrick listens to a question during a breakout session with Stewart-Haas Racing personnel during the NASCAR Media Tour, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, in Concord, N.C. (AP Photo/The Charlotte Observer, Jeff Siner) MAGS OUT TV OUT
Tony Stewart looks over and smiles at Danica Patrick as she responds to a question during the NASCAR Media Tour, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, in Concord, N.C. (AP Photo/The Charlotte Observer, Jeff Siner) MAGS OUT TV OUT
CHARLOTTE – With a full season and clean slate ahead of him and his team, Tony Stewart was in the mood to get playful. The centerpiece of Stewart-Haas Racing was asked if his new, much-hyped Sprint Cup teammate, Danica Patrick, would be the beneficiary of shared points to help her qualify for the Daytona 500 and ease her transition into the intensity of NASCAR’s premier circuit.
Honest question, but Stewart wanted to mess around.
“No,” he said, feigning a defensive tone. “I worked hard for my points.”
The light-hearted tone provided the segue to Stewart’s true belief: Though a rookie, Patrick doesn’t need help to get anywhere.
“That’s the confidence I have in her,” he said. “I feel she definitely has the talent and capability of racing her way in.”
Stewart’s in a rare position. He’s a driver who fully expects to be in competition for a championship, but as the co-owner of his team, he keeps a mentoring eye on the teammates around him.
This year, that group includes Patrick, whose ascension through stock car racing from IndyCar roots has put her in NASCAR’s ultimate tier. The pressure is on and many will be watching, but Patrick and her team know the move will be a success – largely due to their ability to maintain perspective.
“We’re going to be intelligently patient and know that it’s going to be a process,” she said. “There’s going to be challenges this year for sure.”
Though the speculation of Patrick ending up as a Sprint Cup driver has existed for years, she’s also paid her dues in getting adjusted to the competitive climate. She drove 10 Cup races last year, competed full-time in the Nationwide Series last year and has three years of Nationwide experience altogether.
She’s already seen the environment for herself, and she said that will be a major asset going forward.
“That ability to move nice and slow and take my time and really learn before jumping in the deep end is what’s going to make moving into Cup a little easier than it could have been if I’d have just gone in all the way at one point,” she said.
Her owner can relate. After all, Stewart was a touted prospect as well, going from an IndyCar rookie in 1996 to a Cup regular in 1999. That move paid off quickly, as Stewart won his first championship in 2002, but he thinks Patrick has more to work with now than he did.
“(Her start is) a lot better than mine was. I was driving the car and didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “She understands what she’s doing, she understands what she’s feeling, and that shows comfort. I think that’s a sign that she’s going to do really well, that she’s that comfortable, that quick.”
The entire NASCAR world is in Charlotte this week as part of the Sprint Media Tour, but New Hampshire Motor Speedway got an opportunity to make headlines for itself.
General Manager Jerry Gappens announced yesterday that the track extended its partnership with Sylvania, which will continue to sponsor the Sylvania 300 through 2017, making it 15 straight years that the company has supported the fall race.
“We’ve worked hand in hand for all those years to build the Sylvania 300 into a marquee event in the Chase for the Sprint Cup,” Gappens said. “I’m very proud of the crowd that we put in there last September. I think it was one of the largest crowds in the Chase, right near capacity. That is a tribute to the fans throughout New England and up into Canada that we draw from.”
Busch at ease
It’s been a wayward journey for Kurt Busch, a former Cup champion who fell from Roush and Penske Racing and last year finished 25th with small-time Phoenix Racing.
But the 34-year-old driver signed on with Furniture Row Racing this year, and even though he’s the team’s only driver, Busch is happy with his situation, largely due to Furniture Row’s close relationship with Richard Childress Racing.
“These guys are committed. Phoenix Racing was committed as well, it just seemed like we were working behind the 8 ball a lot,” he said. “However, these guys, they are a fourth team at Childress. We have all the components to do our job well. A through Z is there, we just have to align the letters in the right way.”
As for the infamous temper and attitude that triggered his fall, Busch said he’s mellowed, but has to keep some of that spark to compete.
“I’m a passionate guy that has that desire to win,” he said. “I won’t cross the line to do things against protocol on the track. … But those bad days happen, and being able to absorb it and adjust to it, that’s just that passion and desire.”
(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at email@example.com, or via Twitter @dbonifant.)