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.