Stewart: There’s “a lot of potential” for Danica Patrick

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Three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart knows that Danica Patrick still has a while to go before she can perform consistently in Cup. But he also feels that Patrick has a good future ahead of her in America’s most popular form of racing.

“I see room for improvement, but I see a lot of potential,” he said to the Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer. “I think she realizes to a certain degree she took a big bite doing this as early as she did, and I think everybody’s judging of her, grading of her – I think you have to look at how much time she’s really had in a stock car.

“The time she’s been in a stock car, she’s done a pretty good job. I value it for what it is, not necessarily the result at the end of the day.”

Patrick had a tough rookie season in 2013, posting just one Top-10 finish at the season-opening Daytona 500 back in February. Prior to this year, Patrick had only logged 10 Cup starts in 2012 to go along with her then full-time duties in the Nationwide Series.

According to Stewart, Patrick is still figuring out how to get the most out of her car at the start of races but usually picks up the pace after her Stewart-Haas Racing team makes adjustments.

In her own comments to Fryer, Patrick agrees.

“When you need to get to the very limit of the car, especially when things are challenging, is when it shows up,” she said. “Like first laps of practice, or qualifying, restarts, start of a green flag run – all the things when you are testing the limit and having to be confident and know the limits.

“I don’t know them yet, and I’m not confident. When the car is right, it’s all good, I will gain spots. There is a big contrast in those moments.”

However, you’d think that there will be at least some improvement on Patrick’s part in 2014 now that she’s gotten a year of experience with the Cup machines. She’s still in a good spot with the resources of SHR and the veteran support of Stewart and now, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch.

Perhaps we expected a bit more out of Patrick this past year, but we also have to remember that this was – and still is – a multi-year process. Expectations will increase in her sophomore season, but for both the team and for its observers, they need to be managed ones.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”