Hendrick: Danica in NASCAR Cup series possible
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his NASCAR Sprint Cup team owner Rick Hendrick reiterated that their NASCAR Nationwide Series team is talking with IndyCar driver Danica Patrick about her driving selected stock-car races next year, and Hendrick said that if she did well he might consider putting her in a big-league Sprint Cup car one day.
But Hendrick emphasized in an interview with the Times on Wednesday night that a Cup scenario would be well into the future and depend on several "ifs," such as whether Patrick actually tries her hand at NASCAR, whether she's first competitive in NASCAR's lower ranks and whether she would be a good fit personality-wise at Hendrick Motorsports.
Moreover, Hendrick already has four Cup drivers -- the most NASCAR permits on one team -- with Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and 50-year-old Mark Martin, who recently agreed to keep driving with Hendrick through 2011.
That said, "right now we're talking [with Patrick] and we've got to do some tests," Hendrick said. "We've got to see what her interest level is. I think Danica could help our sport. She's got a tremendous following. She's got talent."
Asked if he would be willing to consider Patrick for a Cup car one day if she's successful in NASCAR's second-tier series, Hendrick -- who has never met Patrick -- replied, "Yes. But I've got four good ones now."
Patrick is the most popular driver in the IndyCar Series, and she's reportedly signed another three-year contract to stay in that series with Andretti Green Racing. But she's also expressed interest in driving some races next year in stock-car racing's lower ranks, such as the Nationwide Series, and has discussed her options with some NASCAR teams.
They include JR Motorsports, a team jointly owned by Earnhardt and Hendrick that uses engines and chassis supplied by Hendrick. Kelley Earnhardt, Earnhardt's sister and JR Motorsports' general manager, confirmed in a statement this week that she's had discussions with Patrick and that "I would be excited to have Danica in the JR Motorsports fold if she decides to enter the world of NASCAR."
"What she said is true," Earnhardt said of his sister. "It's a business. Somebody's got to do it, some team's going to do it, right?" he said of possibly signing Patrick. "Why not our team? Might as well. We got two cars and we got enough open races on the 5 [car] to entertain that opportunity."
Earnhardt and Hendrick made their comments at a Hollywood screening of a new feature-length documentary about Hendrick and his team, "Together: The Hendrick Motorsports Story," ahead of Sunday's Pepsi 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
-- Jim Peltz
Photos: Left - Danica Patrick during practice last month at the IndyCar race in Motegi, Japan. Credit: Associated Press/Shuji Kajiyama. Right - NASCAR drivers Jeff Gordon, left, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the Hollywood screening of a new movie about their team owner, Rick Hendrick. Credit: Associated Press/Chris Pizzello