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Danica, Danica, Danica....And now a bidding war among NASCAR promoters for her Cup debut?

 Danica Patrick: give her credit for being brave enough to make the leap of faith into NASCAR (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


    BRISTOL, Tenn.
   The Danica Patrick media frenzy continues, even though she's still thousands of miles away from this NASCAR weekend.
   Though finally announcing she would indeed be moving to NASCAR 'full-time' in 2012, the Indy-car star, in Sonoma, Calif., for the weekend's Indy-car event, still has questions to answer.

   One curious question – she says she plans to run 10 or 12 Sprint Cup races next season but insists she doesn't know which ones yet…..so is Danica Patrick putting her Sunday Cup presence up for bids? Is Danica Patrick now looking for deal money from Cup promoters to run at their tracks?
   That might be good business. Why not, after all, if her presence in the field could spur increased ticket sales?
   That's good ol' 'old school' NASCAR.
   She's lined up to run the full Nationwide tour, and that includes some 26 Cup-Nationwide double-header weekends.
   Patrick has parlayed a rather mediocre Indy-car career (one win, on gas mileage, in 2008; a couple of good runs in the Indianapolis 500) and her good looks into a major league marketing business.
   How well she can actually drive a race car, on the other hand, is up for debate.
   NASCAR drivers, fully aware of the positive PR spin NASCAR execs and promoters like to float around Patrick, have generally been modestly polite in their public assessment of her.
   However Brad Keselowski says her upcoming full-time NASCAR venture may be the most critical season of her career, a make-it or break-it season, after so many years of rising expectations.

   That GoDaddy Girl: but not enough money to run full-time Cup in 2012? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Patrick isn't the first woman to run NASCAR. Louise Smith and Sara Christian broke that ground in NASCAR 60 years ago. And Janet Guthrie in the late 1970s made a splash too. And since then there have been numerous women drivers here, including several in Cup, albeit less than successful.
   Patrick comes in with a reputation as a good driver in Indy-cars, but with questions about her touch in stock cars, particularly when racing in traffic.
   Brad Keselowski, at 26 two years Patrick's junior but already a three-time Sprint Cup winner, is one of those questioning Patrick's approach to racing and NASCAR. And he says if she doesn't make it….
    "Her accent up the ladder of the sport thru various branding techniques (swimsuit ads, etc.) only serves to undermine the future credibility of female racers who wish to make it based on skill, mental toughness, and a never-give-up attitude.
    "That to me is wrong.
    "She has opened a Pandora's Box for all female racers: If she doesn't succeed, no female will get the chance for years to come.''
    That may be a bit harsh. Still Keselowski says he's gotten interesting reaction to his comments: "I've got a lot of 'Couldn't have said it better.'
   "I rely on a pool of friends, family and fans to assess things like that. I think most of them agreed; I would say over 90 percent. And if you can bat over 90 percent in anything you do in public opinion, I think you're doing pretty damned well.
   "I said what I meant."
   In fact Keselowski isn't the only one to recognize an anti-Danica mood among some NASCAR fans.


    Danica Patrick: opening a new door for NASCAR (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Dale Earnhardt Jr., on the other hand, sees it otherwise. Of course Earnhardt is nominally Patrick's Nationwide team owner.
   Unfair expectations for Patrick in NASCAR? "She's faced them already….she faces a lot of tough criticism, and she does a good job of handling it," Earnhardt says. "She does a good job of keeping a good attitude….not letting that kind of stuff change the person you are.
    "She knows what she is here to do. She loves to drive race cars, and she wants to enjoy doing that, and be the best she can. She keeps a real good attitude about it…doesn't let harsh criticism get her down."
   Just what Patrick's NASCAR lineup might be in 2012 seems rather largely still up for debate, curiously. Will Tony Eury Jr., her current Nationwide crew chief, keep that job? "If she likes working with Tony Jr., she'll express that," Earnhardt says. "If Tony Jr. wants that job, that's up to him. It's not up to me.
   "I just want to help her at the Nationwide level, give her the best experience we can, help her learning as fast as she wants to learn."
    Patrick's Cup debut in 2012 is still up in the air. Daytona's Joie Chitwood is making a pitch that she do that in the Daytona 500.
    Earnhardt says he doesn't have an opinion on that: "She is old enough and has been racing long enough to make good choices…..
    "Daytona would be a tough deal to turn down. It's the best opportunity to secure sponsorship dollars; I'm sure that will be something they look at.
    "I'm sure that whatever happens will be good…whatever happens is going to be good for everybody."

    And then there's the Tony Stewart piece to this equation. He is charged with putting together a Cup team for Patrick.
    And Stewart has not been in a good mood this season anyway, to put it mildly. At the moment he's on the verge of missing the playoffs. And it's been nearly a year since his last tour win.
   So ask him about Danica Patrick at your own peril.
   "We're excited about it. She's putting 100 percent into it, and that's something we're excited about," he says. "She is definitely deserving of an opportunity like this, and we're honored she chose us to do it with."
   Maybe, maybe not.
   What about the crew? "You don't make decisions like this and not already start that process," Stewart insists.
   "We're working on it...we've got a lot of stuff to do. There's a lot of stuff not done yet. We're in the middle of getting it all done."
   While Patrick herself says she's only committed to 10 to 12 Cup races in 2012, Stewart says it would make more sense to have a second driver for that team in order to run the full 36-race tour, in part to keep that car in the top-35 in owner points to guarantee her spots in the field whenever she doesn't qualify fast enough. "It's in everybody's best interest to do that," Stewart says. "It would be good for us as a team to be able to run that car full-time next year, if that opportunity presents itself."
   Stewart conceded he and Patrick have not decided which Cup races to run. Patrick says she'll defer to Stewart in that decision.


     She knows Indianpolis from this perspective. Wonder how she'll do at the Brickyard in a NASCAR stocker? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Jeff Gordon, who knows well how much hype can affect a person's early career, was asked at what point does the 'hype' need to end and the performance need to begin:
   "Danica still has to prove herself, from a performance standpoint," Gordon says. "She's impressed a lot of people in some of her performances this year…but I think she still has a long way to go.
   "She's great for the sport….(but) I think we'll have to wait and see how she does in a full-time season, and in those Cup events. It should be very interesting.
   "It's far more challenging for her than it was for me (in 1992-1993), because I didn't have that kind of hype and expectations, and that many eyes on me…even though I felt like I did.
   "The most challenging years in my racing career were definitely my rookie year in Nationwide (Busch) and my rookie year in Cup….because you feel like you have so much to do to step it up…and to live up to expectations.
   "She certainly has a lot to live up to."
   And if Patrick does pick Daytona for her Cup debut? "It doesn't matter to me," Gordon says. "She did pretty well in the Nationwide race; that was a testament to what she is capable of.
   "She's raced Indianapolis, and that's pretty challenging. If that (Daytona) is where they want to make her debut, I wouldn't have anything against it."


   Clint Bowyer is not in a very happy mood these days.
   Not only is he trying to make the championship playoffs – he's 11th in the standings, and battling Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart for a top-10 regular season finish to clinch a spot in the chase – he's also negotiating a new contract with car owner Richard Childress.
   And Bowyer isn't happy with the speculation he's hearing in the media:
   First, that Bowyer may be shopping himself and a part-time sponsor (Five-hour Energy, according to some, for a 22-race Cup deal) to rival team owners Joe Gibbs, Michael Waltrip, and Jack Roush, maybe for another team under the Richard Petty banner.
   Second, that Bowyer may have been given an ultimatum by Childress to find a second primary sponsor over the next two weeks to help pay the bills or risk having to accept a salary pay cut.
    Bowyer is currently sponsored by General Mills.
    "These deals -- you can't just say 'Yes, do it!' It takes time to put sponsorship deals together; it takes time to have meetings," Bowyer said, almost angrily. "You have got to be patient."
    Bowyer ripped some of the media for what he termed 'hilarious' stories, particularly one that hinted Bowyer was negotiating for helicopter rides to each track: "You don't know me very well, lady…."
    Bowyer said the playoffs are the big goal right now:  "I want to be in this chase…my team deserves to be in the chase.
   "We have a shot at it; we can make it happen. You have to stay 100 percent focused on that."
    And the speculation about his 2012 plans, Bowyer said, has become a distraction: "Unfortunately the media gets hold of it and it makes it even worse.
    "You guys need to stop and think about the situation sometimes, and the detriment it can cause to the situation."

   A race car fell off the jack and onto crewman Cory Howe Friday morning while he was making adjustments under the car.
   Howe was taken to Wellmont Health System hospital in nearby Kingsport for treatment and tests. All tests for severe injury came back negative, and he is listed in good condition. 

   Kyle Busch says his Wednesday night Truck race flap with Elliott Sadler has been settled.
   The two got into it, and Busch got the worst of it, and then Busch blamed Sadler's ties with Kevin Harvick for part of the deal. Busch and Harvick have had run-ins this season; Sadler drives Nationwide for Harvick, but Wednesday Sadler was driving for a different team owner. Harvick won the Truck race; Busch has dominated that tour.
    "I didn't watch any film….Just talked to Elliott….and it's all good, everything's fine," Busch says now. 
    "It's over; it's done with; it's in the past. 
     "We agreed on some things.
     "It was a delightful conversation."
     On the other hand, Harvick wasn't pleased with Busch's complaints:
     "It is just Old Kyle. He was kind of pouting because he was getting his butt whipped (on the track). (If Busch) keeps running his mouth, he might get it whipped off the track.
     "I do not have any reason to talk to Kyle; I was not even involved in any portion of the incident.
     "Hopefully he went back and watched the race -- he shoved him (Sadler) up the track, and he got mad because Elliott ran in the back of him. And then he drove over the front of him (Sadler) and wrecked himself."

    Busch finally had his day in court this week over that speeding ticket for doing 128 mph in a 45 mph zone. He lost his North Carolina driver's license (though that has no effect on his NASCAR license).
    "It's over and done with," Busch says. "It's something I've talked about numerous times over the past few months.  We're glad it finally came to an end.
   "Certainly there are consequences to live through. We'll deal with it and go on."

    Hurricane Irene could affect Saturday night's ABC coverage of the Bristol 500, in East Coast market, if ABC affiliates pre-empt parts of the race for weather coverage.

   Carl Edwards' recent fall in the NASCAR standings is curious. Sunday's problems at Michigan were triggered by a broken spark plug; he struggled home 36th, and he's dropped from the tour points lead to fourth.
    To which, when considering the championship playoffs looming, Edwards quotes Sir Edmund Hillary: "It's not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves."





Keselowski's negative

Keselowski's negative comments about Danica are uncalled for. Let's see him put his big mouth in a Indy car and see how brave he really is.

It would be fun to see

It would be fun to see Keselowski's big mouth in an Indy car. Come on Brad, put up or shut up.

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