BROOKLYN, Mich. - Now that Danica Patrick has created a flood of publicity and generated new interest in the open-wheel racing ranks, is it time for the stock car folks to go find a petite and pretty driver and put her in the starting grid for every Nextel Cup race?
The often painfully frank Tony Stewart put the brakes on that venture yesterday, saying during a visit to Michigan International Speedway that it should only occur under the "right" circumstances.
Stewart thinks everyone should climb the same ladder in stock car racing, and he wants no part of any move that has even a hint of publicity stunt or marketing ploy to it.
"I don't think that's the right way to do it," the 2002 Winston Cup champion said. "I don't think we need to rush that. I don't think they need to just find a woman and put her in the race car and say, here, we need to do this because we need a woman out there like Danica Patrick. I think that is the wrong reason to do that."
Patrick, who shook the racing world with her fourth-place finish in Sunday's Indy 500 - a race she led three times for a total of 19 laps - has earned Stewart's respect after she worked her way through the developmental circuits for several years before getting her first qualifying run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in early May.
"Danica is there for the right reasons, not the wrong reasons," Stewart said. "She has earned her way up there, she's got the talent to do the job and do it right, and she is serious about it."
Stewart, who owns Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, along with a number of other racing interests, said he does not have a lot of time to assess the up-and-coming talent in the NASCAR ranks, but he doubts there is a Danica Patrick out there on the horizon.
"I'm a driver, not a scout, so I don't know," Stewart said. "I've got one World of Outlaws team, two USAC Silver Crown teams, two USAC Sprint Car teams, a USAC Midget team, and a race track. I don't have time to focus on anything else but what I've got going on. If there is that person out there, I haven't had any of them send me a resume yet."
Stewart was at MIS to tour the renovation and expansion project under way at the facility, and to help promote the first Cup race of the season at MIS, the Batman Begins 400 on June 19. Stewart, who in the past has had his sometimes-volatile temper earn him a spell in NASCAR's doghouse, said he will be the first to greet a qualified woman driver in the Nextel Cup ranks, when one emerges.
"The first woman that comes along who has earned her way up there, like Danica has, I'll welcome her with open arms," Stewart said. "And I hope she's as good-looking, too. Danica, it would not hurt my feelings at all to have her parked next to me in the garage area here."
Stewart agreed that a successful woman driver would further expand stock car racing's already burgeoning fan base.
"I am waiting for that situation to happen in NASCAR, whether it's just finding the right person, or what," Stewart said.
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