Stewart Insists His Plan For Danica Will Pan Out
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The pointy heads call it “tough love’, that thing where authority figures subject their charges to small slices of hell in an effort to instill discipline that could serve them well in the future.
Tony Stewart, the Sprint Cup team owner, said Friday that despite some bouts of frustration, he still thinks the tough love he has prescribed for Danica Patrick is not too tough. He said he think it will all pay off somewhere down the line.
Probably not this weekend when Patrick drives in the Hollywood Casino 400 Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway, but next year for sure.
“I really do think she will thank me next year,” Stewart said.
The hells that Stewart has subjected Patrick to this year have names like Darlington, Bristol and Dover. That is, tracks which test the physical and emotional thresholds of, even, series champions.
Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup champion as a driver, has said repeatedly this year that in carving out a Cup schedule for Patrick, he picked out the toughest races and venues he could think of. The reason, he has insisted, is that Patrick would benefit: That she would emerge from the smoke and debris a better driver, and a person better able to play with the big boys.
“Just like we said, we picked races that were going to be hard,” Stewart reiterated on Friday at Kansas. “They are not supposed to be easy.”
Patrick is not a racing newbee. She drove over 100 championship races in the IndyCar series. She performed well in the Indianapolis 500. She won in Japan.
But stock cars were not her thing until 2010. That’s when she split her time between the IZOD IndyCar Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series. She did that again last season.
This season, she has bolted from open-wheel racing and is running a full NNS schedule and a select few Sprint Cup races; most of those at the toughest places Stewart could find.
Because next season, Patrick is scheduled go Cup racing on a full-time, 36-race basis.
“Her scenario is a little different than a lot of other drivers,” Stewart said. “She has been very eager to get to the Cup series and I still think more so than some people do that she has the ability to be successful at this level. The learning curve that she is going through has been a lot shorter than what it probably should have been. But with that, that is why Ryan (Newman) and I are here as a support system to her, why Greg (Zipadelli) was chosen as her crew chief for this year.
“I believe she can do it, but it wasn’t going to be easy. There wasn’t anything to learn by going to easy tracks this year on a partial schedule. The schedule she is going to have next year she is going to have to go to these hard tracks. Being able to just have the experience of going the year before even if it’s a rough experience you at least learn and get a base of that track anytime you do something for the first time it’s tough. The second time is always easier. I don’t care what it is. Next year she will see the benefits of that.
“It is hard because she is running against top-notch guys, top-notch teams. There is not enough time to allow her to get caught up at this point, but she is still learning. She will realize that next year and she is a confident person and part of my job as a car owner is to say, ‘Hey I know it’s frustrating at times, but trust me there is a benefit to what we are doing. I’ve been there before I know’. Though she may not see the benefit of it right now she will next year.”
Patrick has admitted that her first year as a stock car full-timer has not been easy. With an average finish of 21st in 29 NNS races and 30th in her seven Cup races, she also admits to fits of frustration.
Stewart said he is not worried that Patrick will suffer loss of confidence because of tough times on the tough tracks. Why? She is getting group support in addition to the tough love.
“Because we have all done it, Ryan (Newman, also a Stewart-Haas driver) came from totally different types of cars to this level,” he said. “I came from totally different types of cars to this level. There is always that part at the beginning where you wonder if you can do it if it was easy at the beginning then you would have that confidence right away. Anytime you move to a top tier series it’s going to be hard to be competitive right off the bat. Having us having gone through those lessons and going through those experiences that is where we can help keep her confidence up and reminder her that hey there is a reason that we brought you into this program. We can handle that side and help her out with that.”
Patarick said Friday that she still supports Stewart’s grand plan for a Cup future they both hope is long and successful.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?” she said. “I actually have had a lot of fun at some of the more challenging tracks. I really enjoyed Darlington. I really enjoyed Bristol. There have been some tracks that I didn’t expect to like. There are times that I go to places like for the Coke 600 at Charlotte and I thought I could do better there, and personally I thought I sucked. I think I surprise myself sometimes of what I catch on to and what I don’t. I’m sure it will help and just knocking 10 tracks off the list is one of the biggest things.”
Patrick will race NNS and Cup this weekend. That was not part of the original plan but Patrick’s schedule was expanded when it was announced that because of the repaving and reconfiguring of the 1.5 Kansas oval, teams would be allowed two full days of testing on Wednesday and Thursday this week.
Again, more tough love for her with all the laps that Patrick will log this week, but one that all involved hope will serve her well down the line.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.com Comments