Danica Patrick's long-awaited debut in the Sprint Cup Series will come in the 2012 season-opening Daytona 500, Patrick and Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart confirmed Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Patrick is in Texas to race the first of the final three 2011 Nationwide Series races she'll contest before doing the full 2012 Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports.
Patrick will race a No. 10 Sprint Cup Chevrolet, bearing the number she first used in karting, during Daytona's Speedweeks, where she currently will need to qualify on time. Her schedule will also include events at Darlington, Bristol, Atlanta, Chicagoland, Dover, Texas and Patrick's home Phoenix event, the penultimate race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
"This announcement has been a long time coming, and it's nice to be able to unveil the car and reveal the schedule for next year, finally," Stewart said. "We took the whole schedule and took races that we thought would be really challenging for her and to pick tracks she needed to put emphasis on.
"We're keeping two dates open to see how the start of the season goes and make sure we can call an audible if we need to. If we see a place or Danica feels like there's a track that she struggled at, we have that flexibility to plug them in. But we will run 10 full races with her."
"The most weighted factor [in determining the schedule] was places that might be a challenge -- places that had unique characteristics, that would be good to get some extra laps at," Patrick said.
"At a place like Darlington, for example, where I'll run the Cup and Nationwide cars together, one absolutely will help the other. Tony [Eury Jr., Nationwide crew chief] has said sometimes the Cup guys like to do the Nationwide races to get more laps so they get more comfortable on the track.
"Sometimes guys like to do races at places they're good at, so they can just have fun -- like [Dale Earnhardt] Junior at Bristol, or something. But for me, it's going to be about laps."
Patrick understands that some tracks will be easier to tackle than others.
"Darlington's going to be an awful lot of fun," Patrick said, tongue obviously in cheek. "The expectation levels will be low, which is probably a good thing.
"To be honest, from my perspective, I did not want to start my year in a Cup car -- for the races I was going to do -- at someplace like Darlington. Everybody's going to be watching, especially at my first Cup race. And there's going to be more news about it, so I didn't want [Darlington] to be my first one.
"I wanted to start somewhere where I could have fun, and where I had a chance to do really well."
Patrick had a chance to win the July Nationwide Series race at Daytona, the first NASCAR stock car superspeedway race she competed in, until a competitor triggered an accident coming to the finish.
"There are other places where I'll go that will take a long time to learn," Patrick added to her Daytona reasoning. "So it was that, and it's just a good weekend to start, because it's good for Go Daddy and the other partners."
Patrick acknowledged that the more time she can get in stock cars is a good thing. Three-in-a-row to end the Nationwide season is good, but she's not sure about off-season testing for either division.
"It's great to have these three races at the end that's going to lead into the next year, because we're kind of getting ahead of the game for the start of the season next year, as far as implementing certain things and trying different things that we'll carry over to next year," Patrick said. "We want to do that to ensure we start off strong, because as Tony Jr., has said, the first 10 races are the whole championship.
"Conversations about [testing] the Cup car have been very limited. [Stewart-Haas] is in the middle of the Chase and it's just such a new relationship so that's something I need to get on because I want to get out there and I want to do well and the only way to do that is to test and get better."
A Cup test has been scheduled for Nov. 15 at Daytona and Stewart said his group would attempt to have a car for Patrick to participate with in addition to the regular Pre-Season Thunder testing at Daytona in January.
Patrick has lived in Scottsdale, Ariz., near Phoenix while competing in IndyCar -- which means she's not been near the Andretti Autosport shops in Indianapolis -- or JR Motorsports or Stewart-Haas in the Charlotte, N.C., area either. She won't change, even considering she'll have 43 stock car races on her docket next year.
"I go [to the shops] when I need to go and I'll go to make seats and get to be friends with everybody," Patrick said. "But let's face it; we're going to spend 33 weekends together in Nationwide and eight to 10 weekends in Cup together -- so we spend a lot of time together.
"I'm always available by phone and if they need me to fly to Charlotte that's exactly what I'll do. But I don't feel the need to set-up shop [near Charlotte] -- I don't get that many days off [smiling] so to be honest I probably wouldn't be at the shop that many days."
Stewart said that with Patrick's announcement, efforts to hire a crew chief for the program would be ratcheted-up, describing the relationship as a marriage where "there aren't a lot of people that you can plug into the positions."
Stewart also reiterated that his organization would continue trying to put sponsors in place to run the No. 10 car full-time next season and hasn't set a date where the organization wouldn't consider the additional funding.
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