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'Smoke' says the storied short track won't be a picnic for teammate Danica Patrick next Sunday.
Associated Press | File February
Danica Patrick (left) displays the flag with car-owner Tony Stewart after winning the pole for the NASCAR Daytona 500. Patrick's results have not been as good since.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
MARTINSVILLE — Danica Patrick will make her first trip to “The Clip” this week.
On that note, Tony Stewart says the NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie can forget about enjoying some kind of whoop-de-do in next Sunday’s STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
“I’m sure it will be interesting,” Stewart said during a March 20 promotional gig at the paperclip-shaped .526-mile oval.
“I’m coming here with two roles. I’m going to be here as an owner and as a driver. From an owner’s role, I’m going to be really nervous. From a veteran driver’s side, it will be kinda fun to watch her learn.”
Stewart snickered, then added: “I think I’m going to be laughing a lot.”
Face it, Martinsville’s historic bullring will arguably present the toughest assignment in Patrick’s first full Cup season. Sure, she finished eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500, aided in large part by a rocket-like race car that won the pole and was as quick, if not quicker, than the rest of starting field of 43.
Since Daytona, the “Go Daddy” girl hasn’t gone so fast, posting finishes of 39th (Phoenix), 33rd (Las Vegas), 28th (Bristol) and 26th (California).
Patrick, who turned 31 this past Monday, has driven a race car at a lot of places — on the IndyCar Series and the past three years on NASCAR’s Nationwide Series — but none of the venues compare to Martinsville’s tight, low-banked oval that produces close-quarter racing that smacks of rush-hour traffic in Manhattan.
Stewart, a three-time Martinsville winner, said the Henry County track is a different animal than all the rest. When asked if he had yet offered any words of advice to Patrick on Martinsville, Stewart grinned.
“I’m trying to decide if I want to or not,” he said, laughing. “Part of me as an owner wants to tell her everything I know and try to help her get through it, but part of me is like, ‘You know what? It doesn’t matter what you say. You kind of just have go through the first experience of it and get a feel for it on your own.’
“I’m sure we’ll tell her some things when it comes to what we do to drive, but as far as the race goes we might have to let her learn on her own there.”
Stewart, co-owner of the three-car Cup team that includes defending race winner Ryan Newman, said racing at the Cup Series’ smallest track is like “putting 43 cars into a blender.”
No NFL rules here at this joint. Contact from all angles can be expected in the three-hour paint-swapping session.
“To be on top of each other all day like that and gettting beat on from all sides will be something different for her,” Stewart said. “I’m sure there’s going to be some things that happen in the race that [Patrick] is not ready for.
“There’s never been a race here where I didn’t touch bumpers with somebody at some point. And 90 percent of the time it’s accidental and doesn’t lead to a wreck, but it’s just you get bumped and that’s something she’s not really used to yet.
“I would say just like anybody else’s first trip to Martinsville ... you will definitely leave here with a headache.”
Stewart said originally the team’s schedule called for a test session at Martinsville, but logistics later forced a change of plans.
Stewart, a three-time Cup champion, said Patrick couldn’t have picked a more difficult year to run her first full season in stock car racing’s elite series. The Stewart-Haas team is off to a slow start with NASCAR’s new Gen-6 car, with Newman standing 20th, Stewart 22nd and Patrick 29th in the points chase.
“It’s a hard year to come in a rookie,” Stewart said. “Everybody is having to adjust with the new car. And that kinda takes away the advantage of having Ryan and I as teammates of having setups that we’re used to that we know worked. We’re all three trying to find combinations that are working right now.
“The great thing is she analyzes everything that happens. And she’s pretty smart about realizing that it’s going to be a long year, it’s going to be a learning year.
“Last year was just scratching the surface,” added Stewart, referring to Patrick’s 10-race Cup schedule in 2012. “But it’s going to be good to go through a full season of just focusing on the Cup car. She’s going to run the Nationwide races, obviously, but to be in that Cup car every week will pay dividends, I think, in the second half of the season.”
Since Daytona, Patrick has failed to finish on the lead lap once. Since NASCAR’s Super Bowl, her average starting spot has been 39.5, with an average finish of 31.5. Nonetheless, Patrick remains one of the series’ biggest stories.
When asked if all the attention could be detrimental down the road, Stewart shook his head from side to side.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I mean I still think her results are going to speak for themselves. If she has good results. then just like any other driver she will progress. If she doesn’t have good results, you know, she will suffer the fate like other drivers have had.”
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