News Column

NASCAR: Stewart Backs Danica's Bid

June 5, 2012

Greg Billing


Tony Stewart has a response for fans questioning Danica Patrick's spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, and even her appearance in the Prelude to the Dream.

"Go get in a car and run Darlington and see if you can run 31st," Stewart said at a recent Prelude news conference in Concord, N.C. "That's my answer to them. It's much harder than it looks, trust me. I didn't care where she finished at all. It was about the experience."

Patrick's appearance at the Prelude -- a charity race putting professional drivers in dirt late model cars -- is all about kicking up some dirt and having some fun.

Critics, though, are slinging some mud. Questions about how many times she'll make contact with the wall or if she'll even make it to the finish of the 40-lap race around Eldora Speedway's half-mile, high-banked oval are common on Facebook.

"I told her just because we're doing this don't feel like you have to," said Stewart, who fields cars for Patrick with Stewart-Haas Racing. "She said, 'I want to come.' I think she's excited about it. The closer we get the more nervous she's getting about it. But she was that way about Darlington, too, and that worked out."

Patrick switched from the IndyCar Series -- where she was the first woman to win a race (2008) and the first woman to both lead the Indianapolis 500 and finish among the top five (2005) -- to Sprint Cup this season. She's made three starts with an average finish of 33rd.

In the Nationwide Series, Patrick has 37 career starts the past three seasons. In 12 races this year her average finish is 21st.

The Eldora dirt, though, is like nothing she's experienced. "I raced on dirt once before in a go-kart when I was young, but that's about it," Patrick said. "It's a totally different style of racing, so I'm not sure what to expect. But, it's for a great cause with Feed The Children benefiting from the money raised this year, so I'm ready to give it a shot."

Patrick -- who will drive the No. 10 ride owned by Eldora late model track champion Jon Henry of Ada -- has the support of Nationwide Series driver Austin Dillon.

"Hats off, man. It's really cool to see people come out and do that for the first time," he said. "It is putting yourself out in front of a lot of people. She's a professional and I'm sure she'll be just fine. It'll be a fun race for her and hopefully she's able to enjoy it more than anything."

Source: (c) 2012 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)