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The Hot Pass: Danica's NASCAR future taking shape

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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HAMPTON, Ga.

The Danica Patrick sweepstakes is far from over. Patrick, who is in her fifth season in the IRL IndyCar Series — and currently fifth in the standings — has been offered a two-year contract to stay with Andretti Green Racing. But even with an IRL deal Patrick may be racing in NASCAR as soon as next season.

Sneak a peek

Danica Looking for more Danica? Check out a revealing look at the popular driver ... and her IndyCar ride.
That wouldn't shock current Sprint Cup championship points leader Tony Stewart, a former IRL veteran himself, who said Saturday that he knows Patrick is also "serious" about competing in NASCAR. "I know that that's what she wants to do," Stewart said. "She looked me straight in the eye and said, 'Hey, this is what I want to do. It looks like fun — it looks like a lot of work, but it looks like fun.' "I don't think she has some misguided idea that it's going to be easy doing it. She wants to do it the right way. She has the intentions to do everything right." There have been discussions with organizations other than Stewart's — including Kevin Harvick Inc. — regarding possible Nationwide Series rides, with the key being that she drive a car that automatically makes the field because of its position in the owners standings. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who also owns a Nationwide Series team, said the opportunity to work with Patrick would be exciting, but neither he nor Rick Hendrick would likely want to invest the money to get her up to speed. But Stewart was adamant that Patrick is realistic about taking the necessary steps and doesn't expect to have carte blanche when she arrives. Patrick understands she would need to ease into stock cars through a multi-tour program involving ARCA, Nationwide and Trucks.
Sources close to Stewart say that Patrick, 27, trusts the two-time Cup champ's opinion since he has not only seamlessly transitioned into NASCAR, but has been able to establish himself into one of the most iconic brands in the sport. And Stewart has used his status to build a championship-caliber team in his first season as a team owner. One roadblock with Patrick moving immediately to NASCAR is with her immense popularity come conflict with sponsor categories: How do NASCAR manufacturers sell Patrick when she's tied in with Honda? IndyCar uses Firestone tires while NASCAR is Goodyear. APEX Brasil is the official ethanol provider for IndyCar but Sunoco is the official fuel of NASCAR. The competition end might be the easiest part of the equation. Stewart said Patrick has toured the Stewart-Haas Racing facility and has sat in seats to develop familiarity with the car. Stewart believes the greatest challenge would be acclimating to a heavier car, with less downforce and smaller tires. "I think she wants to know how to make the transition I think more than anything and she's trying to put together her IRL deal and try to transition that into NASCAR. She's not just cutting the cord and then all of sudden jumping in a car that she's unfamiliar with. "I think she really wants to do it. It's just trying to figure out the time frame and what steps should she take to do it right and to show everybody that she wants to do it the right way."

Eury right at home

Tony Eury Jr. said Saturday he plans to remain under the Hendrick Motorsports banner. Eury, who is currently in the second season of a five-year contract with HMS, certainly has plenty of options — even staying in the role he had Saturday night assisting with the No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in the Nationwide Series. JRM will field two cars in the NNS — the Nos. 88 and 5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Saturday that Kelly Bires is verbally committed to replace Brad Keselowski, while a variety of drivers (including Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman and Michael McDowell) will pilot the No. 5. When asked if Eury had visited Richard Childress Racing recently to discuss a potential job, he just laughed. "Who said I wasn't up there just to tour the museum?" Eury replied. Eury has spent the last three months since he resigned from his role as crew chief of the No. 88 Cup car completing a long awaited "honey-do" list. Professionally, he's been working on the development of the new car for the Nationwide Series. He still enjoys the occasional taste of being a crew chief with the No. 25 Cup car, but adding a full-time deal would preclude him for doing many things that he loves. "When you're a crew chief, you don't have time to devote to fantasy football," Eury joked. "And next Saturday morning when everyone is at Richmond shaking in their boots wondering if they're going to qualify for the Chase, the damn deer will be shaking where I'm at." And what about Eury joining Keselowski at Penske Racing next year, a possibility reported Saturday by The Charlotte Oberserver's Web site? "I'm happy at Hendrick Motorsports," Eury said. "We wish Brad well. We hope he finishes fifth — behind the four Hendrick cars.

Sink or swim

Erik Darnell is the latest "buy ride" to hit the Sprint Cup ranks. Admittedly, his ability to bring the Academy and Northern Tool sponsorship to the table was the overwhelming reason for bumping Bobby Labonte out of the No. 96 Ford for seven of the last 12 races this year.

Line 'em up

So where will Erik Darnell line-up in his Sprint Cup Series debut Sunday? Check out the starting lineup for the Pep Boys Auto 500 here.
Darnell says he "feels really bad" for Labonte, but couldn't pass up the opportunity. "I like (Labonte)," Darnell said. "He's a class act. But the way the sport is these days, money is a big thing and we were able to bring a little money." After three full seasons in the Camping World Truck Series, Darnell, 26, has just two wins to his credit. He finished a career-best fourth in the standings last season. Compared to his fellow Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards, who won six races in two full season in trucks by age 25 before he was selected to replace Jeff Burton in the No. 99 Ford, the numbers just don't add up. This season Darnell has run 10 races in the Nationwide Series tour. He earned the pole position at Milwaukee, where he scored his second top five. However, Darnell added he has no solid plans for 2010. "I'm looking forward to doing this," Darnell said. "It's going to be challenging. It's going to be tough. But I think we can do it.

Bigfoot hobbles again

Carl Edwards was feeling the pain Saturday. Following a Frisbee accident Wednesday when he broke two bones in his right foot, Edwards, who is currently fifth in the standings, has scrambled to make this weekend's racing as comfortable as possible. That's a difficult task considering the pain is the most severe when he applies pressure to the accelerator. "The biggest challenge in practice was in the Save-a-Lot Nationwide car," Edwards said. "You spend so much time wide-open in that car. In the past, I've had a habit of bending pedals because I feel like the harder I push on that pedal the faster the car goes. "Now I have to really, really push on it softly, so that's been a little bit tough. The Cup car is pretty good." Edwards said doctors offered to put a cast on the foot, "But then (he) couldn't remove it." For now, Edwards has a walking boot that he'll wear during his anticipated eight-week recovery period. Mid Missouri Orthopedics created a carbon piece for the bottom of his driving shoe combined with a form-fitting piece of plastic for the top of the shoe to keep the sole rigid. After finishing seventh in the NNS Degree V12 300, Edwards said, "If this is as bad as it gets, it will be fine in the (Cup) car."

Say what?

When Tony Stewart was asked whether NASCAR should institute "push to pass" technology he replied: "Oh God, I hope not. If I want to play a video game, I'll go back to the bus."

Say what II?

Call Carl Edwards careless, but don't call him Flipper anytime soon. After breaking his foot in a Frisbee accident Wednesday, Edwards said: "I probably won't be doing a back flip for six to eight months no matter how many races I win."
Tagged: Kelly Bires, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Brad Keselowski

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