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Tony Stewart would like Danica Patrick in his Prelude to the Dream

Tony Stewart: promoter/owner/driver, says Danica Patrick would be welcomed to run at Eldora in his September all-star HBO special (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Is Danica Patrick really serious about NASCAR racing?
   Well, one way to check her mettle and interest would be to run in Tony Stewart's 'Prelude to the Dream.'
   And Stewat, putting on his promoter's hat -- says he's willing to invite Patrick to race in his in dirt late models HBO special Wednesday night Sept. 9th, at his Eldora Speedway.
   That event is a NASCAR all-star race on the legendary dirt track, and it was rain-postponed from June 3rd.
   If Patrick were to accept Stewart's invitation, she'd get a good look at some of NASCAR's finest, including Jeff Gordon, Jimmie, Johnson, Carl Edwards, Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne, Kenny Wallace, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Robby Gordon, Ryan Newman, Stewart himself, Aric Almirola, Bill Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Dave Blaney, David Reutimann, Denny Hamlin, Kenny Schrader, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Casey Mears and David Stremme, who are the featured headliners.
   Patrick's possible future in NASCAR has been hotly debated the last several months, and the latest is that her current Indy-car team owner Michael Andretti feels he can sign her to a new contract.
   Keeping an Indy-car ride while dabbling in NASCAR may be Patrick's best NASCAR gambit, whether that's the full 16-race Indy Racing League tour and a handful of Cup events and Nationwide events, or more.
     Stewart has done both Indy-cars and NASCAR. Does he think Patrick can do NASCAR?
   "Nobody knows whether she can do it, until she gets out and tries it," Stewart says.
   "I don't know if she's ever driven a heavy race car.
   "If it's something she wants to do, she would have to make the commitment. You can't just show up and  be good. When I started out, I ran 22 Busch races before I 'got it.'
   "It was hard to bounce back and forth and be good in both.
   "Obviously she's got a lot of talent.
   "But nobody knows what level of talent she has in a stock car.
   "If she's really serious, if it's something she really wants to do, she has to be committed to it. It may be a crossroads for her. It's not something that you can just sneak up on. You either have to do it or not."
   Juan Pablo Montoya, who made only four NASCAR Nationwide starts before making his Cup debut, says Patrick can do the NASCAR thing – with patience, on all sides: "Are people going to be patient enough to let her struggle? That's the million-dollar question.
   "There are some weeks she'll run good, and some weeks she'll run terrible.
   "A top-five finish here is like three wins in Indy-cars."
    If the 2010 IRL and NASCAR Cup schedules are similar to 2009, Patrick would could run the full IRL tour and still have openings to run the Daytona 500, California 500, Las Vegas 400, both Atlanta races, Bristol, Martinsville, both Richmonds, Darlington, both Michigans, Kansas City, the fall Charlotte 500, the fall Talladega 500, the fall Texas race, the fall Phoenix race and the NASCAR season-ending event at Homestead.
    Jeff Burton says "I don’t know if she can do it. Danica can only answer that question...and if she decides she wants to look at this, then what she needs to do is drive one of these things.
   "She needs to go to a track somewhere, and sit in one of these things and drive it. Until you do that, you can't make a determination whether or not you like it and you think you can be effective at it.
    "She could do that under the cloak of darkness and no one would ever know about it...if she didn't want anybody to know about it.
    "She's run really well this year, she has silenced some of her critics because of the way she's run. She is certainly a much sought after driver due to the attention that she draws.
    "She could demand some things from car owners and make it happen.
    "One of the things -- if I were her --- I would be looking at is if I’m going to consider it then I better get all the information. The only way to get information is to get in the seat and go out and drive the car. Until she's done that, she doesn’t know if she can do it.
    "I don't know if I could drive an IRL car. I have no idea. I would have to sit in it and see if I liked it and if I could be effective at it."


Hot in Indy-cars, but she can drive in NASCAR? Maybe she should try her hand at Tony Stewart's all-star showdown at Eldora in September (Photo:Indy Racing League)

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