Danica Patrick intrigued by prospect of 16-driver Chase
By Reid Spencer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The notion of a 16-driver field in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and a possible “win-and-you’re-in” format certainly got Danica Patrick’s attention.
And it crystallized the game plan of her crew chief, Tony Gibson.
No, NASCAR hasn’t announced the specifics of possible changes to the 10-race playoff format, but the unquenchable rumor – based in part on the sanctioning body’s preliminary conversations with its stakeholders – is that major change is coming.
Most of the speculation has centered around a 16-driver Chase, with race wins as the path to qualification for the playoff.
“I think that the more drivers in it, the more opportunity,” Patrick said Monday during the opening session of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. “And for me, as a new driver in the Sprint Cup Series, that definitely plays into my hand.
“And having some of the qualifications being to win [races], to me, I’ve been decent on the (restrictor-plate) speedways. Those are also ‘anything-can-happen’ kind of tracks. So that’s exciting. That puts a little bit more of a realistic perspective on it.”
For Gibson, it means honing in on the plate tracks. Patrick won the pole for last year’s Daytona 500 and was fast during Preseason Thunder testing at the 2.5-mile superspeedway in mid-January.
“She’s already proven she can damn sure win one of these restrictor-plate races,” Gibson said. “If she can do that and get in this Chase, that’s huge. That’d be huge for our sport. We focus hard on every race, but I’m focusing really, really hard on these restrictor-plate races. That’s where I feel like I’m going to have my best shot to make the Chase.
“Last year, we knew there was no shot in hell we were going to make the Chase, but now we’ve got a shot at it. You show me a little bit of a crumb, and I want the rest of the cookie.”
Gibson said Patrick was nervous at Daytona as a rookie last year, but this year he expects her to have plenty of drafting partners, including fellow Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch.
“I know that we’ve got four people that like her right now, and I know the Hendrick guys, they like her, too. We were third coming down to get the checkered [flag last year], and we just made one wrong move. If we’d have moved left instead of right, we’d have won the Daytona 500.
“She knows that now. She’s logged that in her memory banks. She’s going to have more confidence, and she’s going to know who will draft with her and who won’t draft with her. And when it comes down to those situations again, she’s going to push the issue, because, she knows, too, ‘This is my shot to get in the Chase.’“
Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas is flexing his muscles again.
After making a unilateral decision to add a fourth driver (Kurt Busch) to the organization’s roster, a move announced last year, Haas has begun the application process for a license to field a team in Formula One, starting in 2015.
From a car owner’s perspective, NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing is an expensive sport. Formula One racing is exponentially more expensive.
Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone recently questioned whether Haas could afford to operate a Formula One team. Haas acknowledged Monday that the cost was daunting.
“It is,” he said. “That’s been brought up a number of times. I don’t know if we fully understand that, but in the next few weeks we’ll have a little better idea.”
Haas found Ecclestone’s comments casting doubts on his earnest desire to enter F1 “a little disheartening.”
“If he’s telling me that I’m not going to get a license, I appreciate that,” Haas said. “It’s better to know it now than, say, later. Maybe he’s looking at our application and just didn’t think we have it. I don’t want to spend a lot of time if I don’t have a chance to get a license…
“Maybe he’s just trying to warn me about, ‘Are you sure you know what you want to do here?’ But at the same time, maybe Formula One’s not ready for another team. That could be the other part of it.”
“Do it Yourself” didn’t work as a motto for JTG/Daugherty Racing.
Team owners Tad Geschickter, Jodi Geschickter and Brad Daugherty all felt the organization needed a partnership with an established team to propel the single-car organization forward in 2014, the first season with AJ Allmendinger as a full-time driver.
To Geschickter, the choice among potential partners was a no-brainer. He and his co-owners opted for Richard Childress Racing and a switch to Chevrolet. The success Furniture Row Racing had last year as an RCR partner was only a part of the equation.
“I was kind of predisposed anyway,” Geschickter said. “Richard has kind of been my mentor. Even 20 years ago, for some reason, when I had a question in the business, he was the guy that would invite me to his office.
“I asked him one day, ‘You’re awful nice to me – why are you doing all this?’ And he said, ‘Well, once upon a time I had to sell my living room furniture so my family would have Christmas, and I like what you all are doing, boot-strapping, and I want to help you.’“