By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
DOVER, Del. -- If Tony Stewart is tough on rookie drivers, it's only because he wants to help them, Danica Patrick says.
Stewart had Patrick's boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., in his sights on Sunday, complaining that Stenhouse was blocking unnecessarily during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Stenhouse and Patrick also were involved in a three-wide wreck with Brad Keselowski.
After the race, Stewart told Claire B. Lang of SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and Dustin Long of MRN, "Ricky Stenhouse -- I'd choke him right now, if I could get to him."
Patrick, who drives for Stewart-Haas Racing, said that's merely Stewart's way of showing he likes and respects the rookie driver.
"If Tony's hard on rookies, I just thank the good Lord above that I'm on his team," said Patrick, who is competing against Stenhouse for the Sprint Cup rookie of the year title. "What I would say about Tony is that he wants to help teach the rookies, and the rookies that he respects and feels like should get that time of day. If he doesn't think they were good, he wouldn't try to help them, because they won't be around for long, in his opinion.
"So, if there's anyone out there that he says something about, it's only because he knows they're going to be around, and he wants them to learn how to play the game the way he's learned how to play the game -- and he's been here a long time and has been very successful. So it's actually a good thing that he wants to help and that he would speak up."
According to Patrick, Stenhouse and Stewart talked on Sunday night.
"We talked about it a little bit, too," Patrick said. "(Stewart) loves him like a son, he said. So you would never hurt your son. You would only try to help your son. I think that's the moral of the story."
BACK IN THE SADDLE
Paul Wolfe, crew chief on the No. 2 Penske Racing Ford of reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, couldn't be happier to be back at a race track.
Wolfe returns to action for Sunday's FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover after missing two points races and the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race during a suspension affecting both Penske Racing Cup teams for unapproved rear end housing assemblies at Texas in mid-April.
Though Wolfe dictated many of the competitive decisions for Keselowski from afar, he missed being at the track even more than he thought he would.
"For me personally, it was tough," Wolfe said Friday at Dover. "It was tougher to deal with than what I thought it would be. I'm a hands-on kind of guy, and for me to be able to watch the car in practice and see how it runs around other cars is important to me, visually, to see that and make decisions on what changes to make.
"Everyone that stepped up and helped out did a great job and did all that we could ask, but, obviously, it's just not the same."
During Wolfe's absence, Keselowski finished 32nd at Darlington and 36th in last Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. He dropped five spots to 10th in the standings, the last position that would guarantee a spot in this year's Chase.
"We've lost a lot of points over the last month, and it started a little earlier ... before I was gone," Wolfe said. "We had some engine issues at Richmond and lost points there. At Darlington, we felt like we had a competitive car, but we had issues there with a loose wheel and getting caught up in a wreck.
At Charlotte, Keselowski had a hard time cracking the top 15 and ultimately was KO'd by a crash that started with contact between the cars of Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
"It seems like, as a team, we're going through one of those slumps right now," Wolfe said. "We aren't hitting the panic button by any means, and Brad has kept a positive attitude through it all.
"Everyone on this team knows what they're doing. We've won races. We've won a championship. This weekend, we're looking forward to buckling down here and getting back on track."
CAN A LAME DUCK FLY?
Having picked up his second victory of the season in the Coca-Cola 600, Kevin Harvick is all but a lock to qualify for the Chase in his final season with Richard Childress Racing.
Conventional wisdom says it's difficult, if not impossible, for a driver to win a championship as a lame duck, but Harvick isn't letting that deter him.
"Right now, we're just racing on a week-to-week basis, and the performance of the cars has been good," said Harvick, who will move to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. "We've been able to get to Victory Lane four times -- two points races -- so I think we're in a good position to contend for it.
"Everybody is focused on the job and task at hand to be able to put ourselves in position to try to do that. I don't see why not."