NASCAR: Junior has advice for Danica
Scripps Howard News Service
During a recent session with reporters at Pocono, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was bombarded with questions.
Nothing unusual about that. Heís NASCARís Most Popular Driver and has been for eight consecutive years, so heís always going to be bombarded with questions.
This time, though, there werenít as many queries about his long winless streak or his tentative spot in the Chase standings.
This time, most of the talk centered on an employee of his whom, well, isnít even an employee of his. Not yet, anyway.
For a full year there has been major buzz that Danica Patrick was going to leave IndyCar in her rearview mirror and make the full-time leap to NASCAR.
Lately the chatter has centered on Patrick joining Earnhardtís JR Motorsports Nationwide Series team, and work with Stewart-Hass Racing in Sprint Cup.
After a brief apprenticeship in the second-tier series, she could commit to a full season of Cup ó much to the joy of fanboys and marketing executives everywhere.
Earnhardt said there is no news to report. No decision has been made by Patrick, so thereís no reason to speculate.
But what the heck.
Might as well get the ěwhat ifs?î out of the way now and avoid the rush.
ěI think that anyone that comes into the sport, anyone, needs two or three years in the Trucks and Nationwide Series to step into the Cup Series comfortably,î Earnhardt said. ěTwo or three years in the Nationwide Series is a pretty decent amount, and that would be rushing it in my mind.î
Make no mistake ó thatís what everyone affiliated with JR Motorsports would love to happen. The Nationwide Series holds its own pretty well as a stand-alone NASCAR Series, but if Patrick were in the field every week, ticket sales ó and TV ratings ó would rise from sea to shining sea.
Short of winning the Indianapolis 500, Patrick has done about all she can do in an open-wheel series that continues to slip in popularity with American audiences. Thereís little doubt sheís headed to NASCAR; itís just a question of how much she wants to do and how soon she wants to do it.
Tony Stewart wants her in the fold, and he knows the quicker she becomes a Cup regular the quicker his team starts raking in sponsorship dollars.
ěItís just good for any driver, any young guy who comes into this sport, to really take his time,î Earnhardt said. ěI know once you get that opportunity in front of you, youíre afraid it might be the only opportunity you have, but sometimes itís smarter to gain more experience at the Nationwide level because some guys come in a little early and they blow that opportunity and it turns out to be the only opportunity they ever get.î
Words of wisdom, to be sure.
But Patrick has already broken several racing molds.
While the best path to success might be taking things slowly, the best path to even greater riches is moving into NASCAR full speed ahead.
Soon, weíll find out just how fast sheís willing to go.