While Danica Patrick is reportedly in the final stages of finalizing a deal to move full time to NASCAR in 2012, many questions still remain about her racing future if she was to complete the transition to stock cars from the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Currently, Patrick is running a limited schedule for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports team in the Nationwide Series. When asked prior to the Brickyard 400 about Patrick making the full-time move, Earnhardt said that he had a good feeling about the contract negotiations.
"I feel confident that she's content where she is and happy with what we're doing," Earnhardt said. "I think things are looking positive for us to put something together."
But Earnhardt Jr. doesn't field a Sprint Cup Series team.
So what are her Sprint Cup Series options?
JR Motorsports is affiliated with Hendrick Motorsports, but Junior has shown no interest (at least not yet) in fielding a Cup team. Hendrick is at the four-car limit — Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt and Kasey Kahne (starting in 2012) — so it can't field another car. That leaves Stewart-Haas Racing which, according to The Associated Press report, could field a car for Patrick on a limited basis in 2012.
That possibility is in contrast to what Stewart said back in May.
"To the best of my knowledge, I haven't heard that she's doing anything in the Cup Series yet," Stewart said. "She's learning in the Nationwide deal."
He also said "anybody that's got a Cup team that would have the availability would jump at the chance to do something with her. Obviously she is a great talent. … I hope we [hear from her]. You would be crazy not to entertain an offer like that and an opportunity for her to drive a race car for you."
Who would prep Patrick's Sprint Cup cars?
When asked if he was going to field a third car in 2012, Stewart hinted it wasn't likely, saying things would have to already be in place if he was to expand his organization to three cars next season. Since there's a technical relationship already in place between Hendrick and SHR, Hendrick could prep the car and provide the pit crew from her Nationwide team. While it wouldn't be that simple — contract details would have to be sorted out — prepping a third car for a few races for Patrick is far from impossible.
Why would Stewart be crazy not to entertain an offer that included Patrick?
Well, because even in this economy, sponsorship support won't be an issue when it comes to Danica.
Patrick has been a longtime spokesperson for GoDaddy, a web-hosting company, and GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons has been adamant that the company would follow Patrick wherever she goes.
And it just so happens that Farmer's Insurance will be taking over the primary sponsorship role on Kahne's No. 5 in 2012. GoDaddy has been a co-primary for Mark Martin in the No. 5 for the past two seasons.
Besides, Patrick is the most marketable driver in the continent without the surname of Earnhardt. She'd have sponsorship if the debt ceiling deal didn't happen and the world economy crashed.
What Sprint Cup Series races would Patrick run?
If Patrick runs a limited Sprint Cup schedule in 2012, don't be surprised to see her run the Daytona 500 given her Nationwide experience and the sponsorship exposure that the crown jewel of the NASCAR season provides.
Patrick's run three times at Daytona in the Nationwide Series and has improved every time, including when she battled for the lead late in the July race before crashing. Maybe her partnership with Stewart in the two-car tango was a sign of things to come?
Restrictor plate racing is probably the most comparable style of racing in NASCAR to the IndyCar Series, so the four restrictor plate Cup races are possible. Add in an intermediate track or two (the Coca-Cola 600?) and a short track later in the season (the Bristol night race?) and Patrick's at the seven races she can run without losing her Rookie of the Year eligibility in 2013.
Would Stewart-Haas be Patrick's likely Cup destination for the foreseeable future?
Yes. As we said before, no one is going anywhere at Hendrick Motorsports until Jeff Gordon retires, and given Gordon's attitude and performance, that's not happening anytime soon.
And no, Patrick isn't a candidate to replace Carl Edwards at Roush Fenway if he leaves at the end of the year.