(Originally posted by Paul to Planet-IRL.com.)
I’ve long contended that if Danica is going to make the move to NASCAR, she is going to do so with Stewart-Haas Racing. She has said all along that she will only go where she has the best chance to win. When looking at NASCAR, that narrows your choices to Hendrick, Stewart-Haas, Gibbs, and Roush. Those four teams have combined to win 17 or 19 races so far this year — the only exception being Tallageda (where Roush nearly won but the fence got in the way) and Charlotte.
Hendrick is full. Gibbs could expand to four cars but has enough of a media circus with Kyle Busch and just doesn’t seem like a good fit for Danica. Roush already has five cars and will have to shrink that down to four cars next year (besides, other than winning at Daytona and California in the season’s first two events, Roush looks like all of its cars were Found On [the] Road Dead). Stewart-Haas racing, on the other hand, has been much more successful this year than anyone dreamed they would be and only has two cars. Under an upcoming rules change, they will have the option to add two more cars to their stable in the coming years.
Now, why would it make sense for Danica to go to S-H Racing? Well, I just listed one of them — they have room for her. Secondly, nobody has been remotely as successful as Tony Stewart in making the switch from IndyCar to NASCAR. Though Tony drove a very different IndyCar machine from 1996-1999 than what Danica has driven over the past 4.5 seasons, I’m sure he could still help Danica with the transition from the nimble IndyCar to the heavy, cumbersome stock car better than any other driver on any other team (with the possible exception of JPM). Third, and most importantly, is that Stewart-Haas probably really, REALLY wants Danica. Tony has already said they want to add a third card but if they have dreams of sugar-plum fairies and a third Sprint Cup team, it’s going to take money to make that happen — lots and lots of money! Bringing Danica on-board in the third SHR car would bring a LOT of money to Tony’s team. That makes Danica very attractive to Tony (just in case the SI shoots didn’t…). And really, when was the last time that Tony didn’t get what Tony wanted?
SHR is doing very well this year and a third car seems certain for their future but I don’t see them ready to make the leap from two cars all the way to four in the next year. So, how does Kevin Harvick fit into this mess? Well, according to many sources, including this one, Kevin is looking to get away from RCR and move himself and his sponsors, Shell/Pennzoil, to Stewart-Haas racing. Being a mega-oil company means Shell has enough money that I have to take off my socks to count all the zeros in their value. If you’re Tony Stewart, who would you prefer to hire? Would you want the media darling who can probably attract a lot of sponsors but has never driven a stock car in her life, or would you prefer the dude that has had three top-five seasons, nine years of Winston/NEXTEL/Sprint/Who-knows-what-tomorrow Cup racing, and sponsors that spend more annually on accountants then the entire value of all NASCAR teams combined? My choice would be pretty simple.
Obviously, the key here is whether RCR releases Kevin Harvick at the end of this year. Even though the Shell/Pennzoil sponsorship expires at the end of 2009, Kevin still has one more year left on his RCR contract. In the end, the owners seem to always release the drivers in this situation (Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, etc…). If they do, my money (miniscule as it may be) says that Kevin Harvick takes the third SHR seat next year and Danica stays put in IndyCar (likely with Ganassi, and IndyCar fans will finally be able to see some ICS merchandise at Target stores nationwide). Seems like a win for everyone. Harvick substantially upgrades his ride, Stewart gets his third car and lots of money, Danica gets unheard-of amounts of money in the IndyCar Series and a much better shot at winning The 500, and AGR (we hope) figures out how to make their cars go much faster again.
Sometimes, things just fall nicely into place, don’t they?
EDIT: Just as I was going to post this, I ran across an article linked to SportBusinessDaily.com (via Facebook) that says Danica visited five race shops while she was in North Carolina. In addition to SHR, she also visited with Roush Fenway (ain’t going there), Michael Waltrip Racing (ain’t going there), Joe Gibbs Racing (addressed above), and Childress Racing (ain’t going there). Do you think Danica sent save-the-date notices to NASCAR-related media several weeks ago to make sure they all showed up and reported on this little tour of hers?