Danica relishes idea of four-driver team
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Danica Patrick knows the value of teammates. The more, the better.
More might be on the way at Stewart-Haas Racing, as competition director Greg Zipadelli confirmed Friday his team hopes to field a four-driver roster in 2014 that would serve the ancillary benefit of surrounding the team's most junior member with a wealth of past success and institutional knowledge as she begins her second season at NASCAR's highest level.
Kevin Harvick will join a lineup of Patrick and owner/driver Tony Stewart -- upon completion of a comeback from a multiple leg break -- next season, but the team could expand to the series-maximum of four and is targeting 2004 series champion Kurt Busch.
Zipadelli acknowledged the organization has been interested in Busch since before it signed Ryan Newman to drive the No. 39 Chevrolet in 2009 -- the team opted not to re-sign Newman after this season -- and has made an offer to Busch, saying, "If we can get it all worked out, we're going to add that link."
It could help provide the link Patrick needs as she continues the transition from IndyCar to stock cars she began in 2010. The most statistically successful portion of Patrick's IndyCar career occurred as a member of the four-team Andretti Autosport organization from 2007 to 2009, when she recorded her only career win, produced five podiums and finished seventh, sixth and fifth, respectively, in points as part of a group that included veterans Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan. Franchitti won the first of three Indianapolis 500s and four championships in 2007. Patrick produced her best finish of third at Indianapolis in 2009.
"If it does work out that there are four of us on the team next year, then I'm excited," Patrick said after practice Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. "I always like having more people to look at as far as their styles. There are more engineers, there are more crew chiefs and more people around to develop things. For me, I think it's a great thing."
Patrick joked that she was pleased the diminutive Mark Martin was replacing Stewart for the remainder of the current season because "he can fit in my car."
"So maybe someday he will drive my car too," she said. "I always like getting other drivers' feedback."
Kanaan frequently took laps in his younger teammates' cars to help establish setups before the Indianapolis 500.
The proposed four-member SHR would figure to be a compelling brew of potent personalities, individually susceptible, at least occasionally, to fits of pique during competition. But it should also be a collegial group. Patrick has known Stewart since she was a teen and he an IndyCar star, has developed a friendship with Harvick and his wife, DeLana, and met Busch when he tested a Champ Car with her Rahal Letterman team at Sebring International Raceway in 2003. Patrick and Busch became reacquainted last year as she ran a full-time Nationwide Series schedule and he entered occasional races.
"I've always really liked him and got along really well with him," Patrick said. "We've never had any problems on the track at all, so we have a good working relationship for sure."
Patrick will immediately benefit from real-time coaching from the three-time series champion, as Stewart has been provided a radio link to his drivers as he convalesces at home. Trouble is, Patrick said, the system has been balky and she's only been able to tell he's trying to talk by the sound of his microphone cuing.
"He is a great driver, we have similar styles and similar feels with the car, and he plays a really good cheerleader," she said. "I think the team has done a really good job of keeping their cool and being up for any of the challenges. I never felt like the team has been disrupted by other drivers coming into the 14 car, so I feel like they are all doing a really good job. That comes with putting good people in.
"So I just miss it because he is a great driver and he is the leader of this team."
A leader with, perhaps, a little larger team next season.