Tony Stewart began recruiting Danica Patrick in the fall of 2009, giving her tours of his race shop and a tutorial on Sprint Cup. As a former IndyCar driver and champion, Stewart could speak her language and outline what it takes to be successful in stock cars. Stewart believed in Patrick's ability to make the difficult transition before she'd run a stock car race at any level and that faith paid off last week with the announcement she'll join Stewart-Haas Racing for a partial schedule in Cup in 2012.
Patrick is expected to move up to a full schedule in Cup with Stewart-Haas in 2013 and Stewart would like to get the third team going for all 36 races in 2012. Stewart is an astute and active businessman in racing -- with multiple ownerships in tracks, teams and other enterprises -- and he's always wanted to build his Cup team into four cars. With Patrick, a magnet for sponsors, coming on board, Stewart has a chance to do it by 2013.
Stewart's first order of business is Patrick's 2012 program. She is the perfect fit at Stewart-Haas -- and the team is a perfect fit for her -- with the ties between the team, Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports, her full-time Nationwide team next season. Now they just have to make it work. Stewart understands he can hire the best people available to field the most competitive team only by running full time. Patrick's Cup program, funded by Go Daddy, is expected to be eight to 10 races. Stewart needs to hire a driver willing to run the rest and find sponsors willing to back that driver.
"If we can put together a package to run somebody in the rest of the races, we would love to do that," Stewart said. "It's in everybody's best interest to do that and I know it would be good for us as a team to be able to go ahead and run that car full time next year if the opportunity presents itself.
"All along we've wanted to be a third- and fourth-car team, so having that opportunity to add that third car, I know that's going to create a lot of excitement [at Stewart-Haas]."
The presumption here is the third team would become Patrick's full-time group in 2013. Starting that team in 2012 would make for a good foundation.
Who is Stewart interested in signing to run part time in 2012?