Tony Stewart doesn’t know whether Danica Patrick plans to switch to NASCAR full time next year, but he says he is interested in possibly signing her for his Stewart-Haas Racing team if she wants to jump to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.
Stewart, a two-time Cup champion and former IndyCar champion, has been one of Patrick’s go-to drivers as far as advice with her NASCAR experiment.
The 29-year-old IndyCar Series star, who is in her second year of a part-time Nationwide Series schedule with JR Motorsports, is considering moving to NASCAR full time when her IndyCar contract is up after this season. She said last week that she has made no decision yet about her future.
Stewart hopes she at least talks to him about driving for the Stewart-Haas team he owns.
“Anybody that’s got a Cup team that would have the availability would jump at the chance to do something with her,” Stewart said Wednesday. “Obviously she is a great talent. … I hope we [hear from her]. You would be crazy not to entertain an offer like that and an opportunity for her to drive a race car for you.”
Stewart said he has not talked to Patrick about running a Cup car for SHR in 2012 or beyond, and added that he did not know if his business managers had talked to her representatives. He said SHR does not have plans to add a Nationwide Series team but wants to expand to a three- or four-car Cup operation. Stewart and Ryan Newman currently drive for Stewart’s SHR team.
“To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t heard that she’s doing anything in the Cup Series yet,” Stewart said. “She’s learning in the Nationwide deal. She’s starting to pick it up. And it’s just time [she needs]. I didn’t think I was ready for Cup and Bobby Labonte and Joe Gibbs said, ‘Yeah, you’re ready.’
“It took me running some Cup races before I realized I was ready. I’m not sure you know until you get out and do it. She’s smart enough. She didn’t get to this level by making bad decisions. I have the confidence that when she gets that opportunity and when she decides that she wants that opportunity, she’ll do it with the right time in mind.”
The only times Stewart has talked with Patrick at the race track has been to give her advice for the Nationwide race that particular weekend.
“Any time she’s called on a race weekend, she’s been more worried about what’s going on with the racing side,” said Stewart, who spoke about Patrick following an appearance at a local school where his sponsor Office Depot had donated computers and supplies. “She wants to know what about this bump in this corner?
“I haven’t talked to her about anything else. She’s got a pretty good staff around her that’s pretty sharp – they’re not going to let her go the wrong direction.”
Stewart won the 1997 IndyCar Series title before making the transition to NASCAR. Patrick, the only woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and the highest-finishing woman in a NASCAR national stock-car series event with a fourth-place finish in the Nationwide race at Las Vegas, has an option year left on her Andretti contract but is considering going full time to NASCAR, possibly with a full year of Nationwide before moving to Cup.
Stewart said it is obvious that she has taken her NASCAR experiment – 13 Nationwide races last year and 12 this year – seriously.
“There is no doubt in my mind that she’s putting 100 percent into it [when she’s here],” Stewart said. “You talk to her on the weekends, … she’s got really good questions. She’s not just asking questions to ask questions. She’s asking very smart questions and you can tell she’s not doing this just to do it.”
The hard part for Patrick possibly would be giving up on her goal of winning the Indianapolis 500.
“It’s more than just an Indy dream, the hard part is it’s a career choice, it’s a career path,” said Stewart, an Indiana native who never won the Indy 500 but has twice won the NASCAR Brickyard 400 at Indy. "It's definitely not easy, for sure. That’s not an easy decision to make. But you have to think about what is best for you long-term.
“I had to give up Indy, but it was for a bigger purpose. It was more than just the month of May. She’s the only one that knows what she wants to do. Whatever decision she makes, she’s going to have a reason for it.”