Speedweeks: Important Time For Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick

[media-credit id=22 align=”alignright” width=”194″][/media-credit]Last season, Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) had a dream year as they won their first championship with team co-owner Tony Stewart in a tie-breaker over Carl Edwards.

Now with Speedweeks 2012 having started, they hope to carry that momentum through this coming week.

While Stewart may now be a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion, he has yet to find his way to victory lane in the Great American Race. Stewart does know how to race at Daytona as he has won a list of numerous other races, including three Coke Zero 400s, three Bud Shootouts, two Gatorade Duels and an IROC win. Beyond that, his six DRIVE4COPD 300 Nationwide wins, with the last four coming consecutively, are second only to Dale Earnhardt’s seven. The win have him tied for second on the all-time win list with Bobby Allison with 16 wins; Earnhardt holds the most wins at Daytona with 34.

With what Stewart has done, it’s almost a mirror image to what Earnhardt did. For 19 years, Earnhardt won almost everything there was at Daytona – except the Daytona 500. Then finally in 1998, he found his way to Daytona victory lane. Could this be the year for Tony Stewart? It’s very easily possible he could do it in his 13th year as he finished second in the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday night.

While vowing for the 500 win, he will also vow for his fifth Nationwide Daytona win in a row, driving the No. 33 Oreo/Ritz car for Delana Harvick, as he has done in years past. The only difference this year being that the car will be prepared by Richard Childress Racing, versus Kevin Harvick Incorporated.

The Nationwide race will be give him another opportunity to race alongside his employee, Danica Patrick.

Patrick will make her full transition to NASCAR this year as she plans to compete in the full Nationwide schedule this year for JR Motorsports, while running 10 Sprint Cup races for Stewart-Haas.

One of the 10 Cup races she has planned for this year is the Daytona 500, which she is locked in virtue of an owners’ points deal that Stewart made with Tommy Baldwin Racing. So when the green flag is dropped on Sunday, she will be in the starting grid making her first Sprint Cup star. She will also become the third woman to start the Daytona 500. Janet Gutherie started the 500 in 1977 and 1980 while Shawna Robinson competed in 2002.

“I want to be good at Daytona,” she said last Saturday. “I know there’s a lot of tracks on the schedule, but when it comes to choosing this one or another one I’ve been to, I’m coming to Daytona, because I want to be good here.”

If Patrick can finish in the top 10, she will become the highest finishing female in Daytona 500 history. It may seem like a tall order for her, however she does have some experience on her side.

Last February, she was criticized for how she drafted with drivers as they stated that she didn’t know the idea of dragging the brake. However, by the summer Nationwide race in July, she learned what she had to do and led the field working with Tony Stewart, and also worked with teammate Aric Almirola.

She has also continued to improve overall in the races that she has run, getting her highest finish of fourth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with fuel strategy after running just inside the top 10 all day.

According to her Nationwide Series crew chief Tony Eury Jr., they were really consistant but “the finishes haven’t shown it. It’s really easy for her to run in the top 15. If we can get everything right, we can run in the top 10 with this girl.”

When it comes to the Sprint Cup Series, she’ll be working with veteran crew chief Greg Zippidelli. Eury Jr. will continue to work with her on the Nationwide side.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com



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