Finding a fit for Patrick wouldn't be easy

Updated: July 13, 2006, 1:32 PM ET
By Rupen Fofaria | Special to ESPN.com

Peruse the message boards and you might find the following thread: "John Force to NASCAR?"

Massaro: A negotiating ploy?

Sure, Force is 57. And, yeah, he's a drag racer. But with just about every other racer mentioned in a possible move to stock cars -- e.g., Dan Wheldon, Jacques Villeneuve, Sam Hornish Jr. and, of course, Danica Patrick -- why not?

NASCAR's got the juice right now.

NASCAR's unified system of leadership -- which, over the decades, has been the source of intense scrutiny and antitrust allegations -- has helped the series avoid the failures of other major American racing series and led to a period of economic boom for those involved. That got the attention of Juan Pablo Montoya, who will make an unprecedented jump from a competitive F1 team to the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.

Rusty Wallace's Take
Rusty Wallace

I think NASCAR is a good move for Danica Patrick in the future, but not right now.

She needs to get her IRL stuff in order and settle in with her team first.

You talk about Juan Montoya probably having a tough time switching to NASCAR, so the pressure on her would be incredible. She would have it tough because the cars are so much different and it takes a person with a lot of energy and strength to drive a 3,500-pound car for a 500-mile race.

Her physique alone would create a huge challenge.

If she really wants to go into NASCAR, I'm all for it. It won't be a cakewalk, it will be one of the hardest things she's ever done in her life.

But if she does want to do it, I think we'll all pull for it and want her to be successful, but I'll be one of the first guys telling her, "Hey, don't expect success right off the bat, because these drivers out here are really good."

I said earlier in the season she's the best female driver I've ever seen, and I still believe that. But that said, with her physique -- that small a person -- getting in that big heavy car, it's going to be tough to handle.

Now, they say Patrick's management is looking into stock-car racing.

She has said, since as early as the beginning of this year, that the schedule would be too grueling. But she has also said, as recently as this week, that the money is great. What she hasn't said is whether she's seriously considering the jump or not -- so feel free to put this column in the Getting Ahead of Ourselves file.

But with Silly Season now a 12-month deal and Toyota's pending arrival prompting drivers and teams to make early decisions for next year, you have to wonder how Patrick -- who would instantly and easily become one of the most marketable and, thus, sought-after personalities in NASCAR -- is affecting the landscape.

The word from every camp at every multicar race team was that they haven't spoken to the 24-year-old IRL driver. But you have to assume that nearly all of them are interested. What would be best for Patrick, if she were to make the jump and brave the 38-week racing schedule?

If Patrick wants to come in and be competitive, she'd need a ride with one of the big boys -- Roush Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing or Joe Gibbs Racing. You could possibly even add Evernham Motorsports to that group.

A gig with Roush or Childress would probably not be the wisest choice: Moving from Indy-style to stock-car racing is a big adjustment and it takes time to figure out. At Roush or Childress, Patrick would be teamed with a bunch of stock-car racers who worked their way up via NASCAR's weekly series and other local dirt tracks.

Guys like Hendrick's Jeff Gordon, Gibbs' Tony Stewart and Evernham's Kasey Kahne ran USAC and other open-wheel cars before making the jump. They'd be better mentors.

"I know [the challenge] for myself was just [getting used to] the heavy cars, the way they roll from corner to corner, trying to figure out how to make them fast, the adjustments you need to go fast, how to communicate with your crew chief just to make the car right so you can drive it," Kahne said of the transition.

Someone who's been through that transition is surely a more helpful teammate.

Problem is, those teams aren't looking to fill Cup rides. Of course, that could change. Of the teams actively seeking drivers, there aren't a lot of places Patrick could go and guarantee herself as good a shot.

Of the rides that are open now, the most promising would be a Toyota gig with either Michael Waltrip Racing or Red Bull Racing, or a seat in one of the Robert Yates Racing Fords, one vacated by Dale Jarrett and one possibly by Elliott Sadler if he chooses to exercise the option in his contract to leave early.

I'm not taking a shot at Morgan-McClure, Wood Brothers, Hall of Fame or BAM Racing (the only team actively run by a female owner and the team that furnished NASCAR's most recent female driver, Shawna Robinson, with a seat). But none of them has proved competitive. And if Patrick wants to win over the NASCAR crowd, she's absolutely going to have to fight through a garage full of skepticism.

Racing for Toyota will be an adjustment for every racer taking on the task. Recall Dodge's re-entry into the sport -- it took several seasons for the teams to be competitive on a consistent basis. And racing for Yates, when there's no telling who her teammate might be, would be a mistake, too.

Rupen Fofaria is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at rfofaria@yahoo.com.

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