NASCAR mailbag: Will Danica Patrick leave Stewart-Haas Racing after 2015 season?

Answering your questions on Danica Patrick’s future, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s new crew chief, Kurt Busch and more.

Santa’s come and gone, the presents have been unwrapped (and in many cases already returned) and the NASCAR news cycle has slowed considerably. That, however, doesn’t mean there isn’t a plethora of NASCAR stories to cover and discuss. As always if you have a question you can submit it via Twitter or by emailing [email protected].

In your offseason storylines column you said Danica Patrick’s contract was up at the end of the [2015] year. Do you think she re-signs with Stewart-Haas Racing or moves to another team, and would another team want her if she didn’t bring Go Daddy with as a sponsor? Is a return to IndyCar even an option?

– Tim

Although a pending free agent, the expectation is Patrick will be in a SHR car beyond 2015, as her re-signing with the organization makes the most sense for all involved. Yes, the results may be mixed, but there were noticeable improvements last season giving credence that with additional time her performance will continue to escalate positively.

Another factor, as often the case with Patrick, is her relationship with Go Daddy, which cannot be ignored and will certainly factor into the decision of team co-owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas to ink her to an extension. Why? Because while there are plenty of drivers worthy of ride with SHR, few come with the financial support Go Daddy provides.

Meaning, if Patrick were to leave SHR would need to find a company capable of filling that void, and that no is easy task. Just look at the multitude of primary sponsors which adorn the cars of teammates Stewart and Kevin Harvick.

As for the IndyCar option, it’s not really an option. Primo seats are even harder to come by in open-wheel and joining a team with limited resources would serve Patrick little. Not to mention, at this juncture in her career, moving back to IndyCar would be viewed as a step back and hurt her brand.

Patrick is a NASCAR driver and will accordingly stay in the Sprint Cup Series, and in almost certainty with SHR. That’s where she’s most comfortable and has made a home for herself, just as SHR is quite happy with Patrick and all she brings to the table.

What’s going on with Kurt Busch and his alleged assault of his ex? The incident in question happened back in September and now it’s late December. That seems like an awfully long time to conduct an investigation. And say Kurt is charged and NASCAR suspends him, who then drives the No. 41 car in his place?

– Jay

What’s important to remember about the investigation involving Busch and ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll is although the incident took place Sept. 26 Driscoll did not file a report until Nov. 5, which in part explains the perceived lengthiness.

When SB Nation spoke with Dover (Del.) police Monday, Cpl. Mark Hoffman said no announcement was forthcoming and explained the prolonged duration of the investigation was due to Busch’s schedule, which prevented him from immediately coming in for an interview.

As for who would replace Busch behind the wheel of the No. 41 SHR entry if he were hypothetically charged, the options are limited. Currently there are no drivers available with the capability to come close to matching Busch’s productivity. At best SHR would be pressed to find someone who could just finish in the top 20 with some regularity.

One name to keep in mind would be Jeff Burton, who subbed for Tony Stewart last season when he was dealing with the aftereffects of the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy. The only hiccup which could preclude Burton filling Busch’s seat is Burton will be part of NBC’s broadcast team when the network picks up the second half of the NASCAR schedule in July. If Busch is projected to miss a significant portion of races, SHR may want a driver whose availability isn’t limited.

As a loyal devotee of Junior Nation should I prepare for the inevitable letdown now that Steve Letarte is no longer crew chiefing for Dale Earnhardt Jr.? I don’t see how Junior can come anywhere close to winning four races again. I feel like 2015 will be similar to the days when Tony Eury Jr. was on top of the pit box.

– Adam

Ah yes, there is no better indicator that the NASCAR season is just around the corner than a panicky member of “Junior Nation” fearful of doom and gloom. Fret not, as Earnhardt will be in good hands with Greg Ives, who shares a lot of similarities with Letarte.

Like Letarte, Ives steadily moved through the Hendrick Motorsports pipeline and most importantly, shares a close relationship with Chad Knaus, which will allow the No. 88 and 48 teams to maintain synergy. The biggest concern regarding Ives’ appointment is his lack of experience as a Cup crew chief, but even that is a nonissue. In recent seasons Paul Wolfe (Brad Keselowski) and Jason Ratcliff (Matt Kenseth) each jumped from the Xfinity Series (formerly Nationwide) to Cup and found quick success.

There likely will be some struggles early on, but Earnhardt should be a near-lock to earn a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Can he win four races again and be a legitimate championship contender? That remains to be seen. However, Earnhardt should be expected to win and avoid falling into a pronounced losing streak like he did prior to Letarte’s arrival.

Explain how Hendrick [Motorsports] re-signs Kasey Kahne for three years and yet there will be spot for Chase Elliott to move to Cup? Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt aren’t going anywhere, so how does Chase fit into Hendrick’s plans?

– Michael

This question has been asked previously, but the answer then seemed obvious — Kahne would be cleared out to make way for Elliott’s promotion to Cup. But since that time Kahne signed a three-year extension, leaving the Elliott’s path to NASCAR’s top division far less clear.

The only person who definitively knows the answer is owner Rick Hendrick, who has not revealed the future of his four-car team. One option would be for Hendrick to farm-out Elliot to a satellite organization such as HScott Motorsports or SHR if Patrick leaves. Another alternative, though far less likely, is keeping Elliott, whose only 19, in Xfinity for a few of more years.

Of course, if Gordon unexpectedly retires the above becomes moot with Elliott the obvious successor as driver of the No. 24 car.

December 29, 2014 by : Posted in Uncategorized No Comments

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