- Marty Smith, NASCAR
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FONTANA, Calif. -- Michael Waltrip has had candid closed-door conversations with Danica Patrick and her representation regarding her potential racing future, and he says any aspirations for the IndyCar star in NASCAR have nothing to do with money.
"We never even discussed it," he said. "The thing I liked about her, and appreciated, was it was intense -- it was just about racing a car. Her people have studied the industry and they've chosen a path for her to get experience in a car. That includes Nationwide.
"And anybody in this garage area will tell you the margins aren't there in Nationwide to pay anybody hardly anything at all. Kyle Busch makes nothing. When I drove my car I drove for nothing. I drove it because I wanted to drive it. That's exactly where she is.
"She just wants to race and learn. I'm inside these conversations. I know, it's not about money. It's about racing a car and learning. It's fun to feel her intensity. It's refreshing to see how serious she is about being in this car, and learning how to do it."
So, then, recent reports that she asked for $1 million per race...
"Is false," he said, cutting off the question. "Fortunately she's surrounded herself with people that are smart enough to know that. Because there's just not any money in it. You're not going to make any money going to race a Nationwide car, doesn't matter who you are.
"There's no Cup driver that makes $1 million a race. And there probably never will be. The million dollars is a [bogus] number. It's ridiculous. It can't even happen in Cup."
The general thought throughout NASCAR is that JR Motorsports is the front-runner to score Patrick as a driver. Waltrip agreed -- with a caveat.
"I was just kidding with [JR Motorsports] that they probably are the favorite to get her, but if they don't want her, here I am," he said, laughing. "I think we still have a shot.
"I know she knows how bad we as a young organization want to win, and want to have cars on the track that people notice. That allows us to continue to grow our team and bring more quality people to our organization, such as Pat Tryson. He's the perfect example of that.
"So you put Danica in a car that can win, and she starts learning and figuring it out, and our team will be appreciated and get attention for that. That's part of our goal."
The goal for Patrick's people, Waltrip said, is to ensure she gets into a car capable of excellence. From there, he said, it can be determined what she can extract from that. Entering discussions with her, Waltrip was uncertain what to expect. He does now.
"I never could get my arms around her intentions or what was going on," he said. "I, like everybody else, read that she was playing [IRL against NASCAR] to get the best deal. And so when I met her I was open-minded, but certainly didn't have a clue as to how I would feel as I came out of the conversation.
"She got me right off the bat, just with talking about her history in open wheel and what she's accomplished, and the way she progressed to where she is now, and wanting to do the same thing in stock cars, telling the story with passion and conviction and desire. I left the meeting wanting to go race a car. It was that infectious."
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.