Patrick hopes to start Cup career at Daytona 500

Posted Sept. 08, 2011, at 6:39 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 08, 2011, at 9:35 p.m.

RICHMOND, Va. — Danica Patrick thinks it would be nice if she got her NASCAR Sprint Cup career started at the Daytona 500.

The IndyCar star is moving to NASCAR full time next season and will run a limited Cup schedule in a car owned by Tony Stewart. He expects her to struggle at most of the tracks where she’ll race, making a Daytona debut even more attractive to her.

“I think it would be a good start,” she told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. “It would be nice if the Sprint Cup debut was at a track where I have the opportunity to finish well, especially given the idea that we’re going to go to tracks that are going to be challenging and probably ones that I’ll do the worst at, but I don’t know yet.”

Stewart, who was at an appearance with sponsor Office Depot in Richmond, said in a telephone interview that he has looked at having her run the sport’s biggest race of the season, but hasn’t decided yet if she will. He said he worked with Patrick in a two-car draft during a Nationwide series race at Daytona in July, and said “she ran really, really well all day there.”

Stewart has said that Patrick, who also will race full time in the Nationwide series in a car owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. next year, will drive in eight to 10 Cup races with an emphasis on learning. The complete schedule for the 2012 season has yet to be released.

“I think it’s hard for anybody coming into this Cup series,” he said. “I was intimidated the first time I raced in the Daytona 500. I went into that race just thinking about running laps.”

As an owner, he said, “it’s my job to make sure we keep her goals attainable.”

Patrick sounds ready to do the same, especially since the plan is to have her race full time in the Cup series in 2013.

“I think the idea is to pick tracks that’ll be really hard and that I’ll need the most practice at, which is going to be really exciting as I’m lapped for the fifth time out there,” she said.

“But it will make it better for the next time I come back.”

Patrick, who was in town a day before the Nationwide series race to promote DRIVE4COPD.com, an awareness campaign for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said she also does not know yet whether she will attempt to drive in the Indianapolis 500 next year.

“My world is quite complicated with sponsors, and sponsor conflicts and what colors and what people are on the sides of my car, and where I’m at and what I’m doing, and what engine manufacturers,” she said. “That’s all really complicated, and you know, there’s a lot of things to look at and think about before we can know for sure if that’s going to happen next year.”

NASCAR NOTEBOOK: Kevin Harvick Inc. will merge its current Nationwide Series program with Richard Childress Racing beginning next season. RCR announced Tuesday the team will field the two KHI entries next season. Elliott Sadler will drive the No. 2 Chevrolet, and the No. 33 will be filled by a mix of drivers from RCR’s team. KHI still has a Truck Series program, and there was no mention of that in the announcement Tuesday. Harvick has said repeatedly of late his organization will be changed next season. Few other details of the merger were announced, but RCR said Harvick will be active in the Nationwide program and KHI will be involved in the business and competition parts. KHI has 10 Nationwide victories and 39 Truck Series wins since opening in 2001.

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