News & Media

Challenging schedule getting Patrick prepared

October 19, 2012, Holly Cain, Special to NASCAR.COM,

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Tony Stewart feels certain that Danica Patrick is going to thank him one day for the grin-and-bear-it Sprint Cup Series education he has carefully crafted for her: tough love and difficult lessons on 10 of NASCAR's most challenging tracks this year in preparation for her full-time move into the series next year.

Patrick's underwhelming results -- at places such as Darlington, Daytona and Bristol -- won't reflect the progress she's made and don't measure the experience she's gained.

Danica Patrick

First-year Cup schedule

"Though she may not see the benefit of it right now, she will next year."


"But, hey, what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger, right,'' Patrick joked Friday from Kansas Speedway.

The question is, Will it make her better prepared?

The former IndyCar driver will make her eighth Cup start in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 at the reconfigured, newly paved Kansas Speedway.

And while she has a pair of top-10 finishes in the Nationwide Series this season, she has yet to finish on the lead lap of a Cup race and is still looking for her first top-20 finish.

But Patrick and Stewart acknowledge, accept -- and remind everyone - these are dues-paying days.

"There wasn't anything to learn by going to easy tracks this year on a partial schedule,'' said Stewart, whose Stewart-Haas Racing team fields the No. 10 Chevrolet for Patrick.

"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 baseline 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.''

The team is hoping to get a jump-start on that. SHR formally announced Friday that veteran crew chief Tony Gibson will move from Newman's team to pair with Patrick in 2013 -- including her remaining two Cup starts this season, Nov. 4 in Texas and Nov. 11 in Phoenix.

As is the case this weekend, Patrick's goal is to turn lots of laps and take lots of notes. Her Chevy was 43rd-quickest of 46 cars in Friday's opening practice at Kansas (speeds). She had the 41st-best time in qualifying and was credited with the 40th starting position, but will drop to the rear of the field after an engine change (lineup).

"I get frustrated when I think about how I'm doing out there in Cup sometimes in practice,'' Patrick said. "Then I remember back to Nationwide and I remember it didn't go so great there either and you end up figuring out how to drive car and hot to get it to the limit. You have to feel that out and be able to believe in that.

"I'm just not quite there, so each time I get to a new track, it's always the same. I've got to build up my confidence.''

In all fairness, Patrick's foray into Cup competition hasn't been far off the pace of other notable NASCAR newbies.

Her teammate Newman won a pole position in just his third start, but he finished 30th or worse in four of his first seven races.

Fellow open-wheel convert Juan Montoya finished outside the top 20 in four of his first seven races.

And Patrick's 30th-place average finish through seven starts is better than two other open-wheel stars who tried their hand in NASCAR. Four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti finished 30th or worse in six of his first seven Cup races in 2008 and averaged a 31.5 finish. Former Formula One driver Scott Speed had an average finish of 32.7 in his first seven Cup races, finishing 30th or worse in five of them.

An important element in Patrick's stock-car education is the ability to maintain confidence while learning under fire.

"There is always that part at the beginning where you wonder if you can do it,'' Stewart said. "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 [Stewart and Newman] 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."

"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 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.''