Tony Stewart, through his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) enterprise entered into a collaborative partnership with Tommy Baldwin Racing (TBR) this past week, where TBR will field the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet Impala for all of Danica Patrick's 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup races this coming season.
There's a method to this: TBR has a No. 36 car that finished the 2011 season with 33rd-place points. The alliance guarantees a starting spot for Patrick in her Sprint Cup debut in a few weeks at the 54th annual Daytona 500 on the Daytona International Speedway oval.
For the 26 races where Patrick is not scheduled to drive, David Reutimann gets the nod in the No. 10 and TBR has sponsorship inventory available for those 26 races.
"Tommy Baldwin Racing has proven to be a very strong organization and it's a good fit with Stewart-Haas Racing," according to Matt Borland, SHR vice president of competition. "It's a Chevrolet team led by a racer who knows every inch of a race car. That kind of technical expertise, along with a company mindset that is similar to ours provides the ideal environment for Danica to learn and succeed."
Tommy Baldwin, owner of his eponymous team has been a NASCAR crew chief and claims five victories, including the 2002 Daytona 500 with Ward Burton at the wheel. He formed the team in 2009 as a single-car entity and has grown to two Sprint Cup cars and a single NASCAR Nationwide Series team for the 2012 season.
"We're very proud of what we've established here and the opportunity to partner with Stewart-Haas Racing in the development of Danica Patrick is a testament to all the hard work we've put in over the years," Baldwin stated. "Danica will have a great team-mate in Dave Blaney, who has been instrumental in getting our race team to where it is today. And with David Reutimann driving the No. 10 car in the races where Danica is not [driving], the team will remain in a strong and competitive position throughout the year."
The agreement allows Tommy Baldwin Racing to work with GoDaddy.com, the world's largest Web hosting provider and Patrick's longtime sponsor. "Go Daddy is a first-rate sponsor," Baldwin added. "Look how they've supported Danica over the last six years. Go Daddy is a sponsor that knows how to get things done right."
While maintaining a hands-on presence with the No. 10 car, Baldwin intends to work closely with Greg Zipadelli, SHR's director of competition. The two have similar backgrounds and come from the same Northeast area of the USA. They made names for themselves as successful crew chiefs within the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour before climbing the ladder to Sprint Cup.
"Working with Tommy will be like old times," Zipadelli said. "We both grew up together and competed against each other in Modifieds. We did the same thing when we got to Sprint Cup. To finally be able to work with each other and help Danica Patrick make a successful transition from Indy cars to stock cars is a challenge we're both looking forward to."
Zipadelli believes that the partnership with TBR will give Patrick a foundation "she needs to succeed. With a guaranteed starting spot (at least for the five five races of the year), we can go into each weekend and simply learn. It's all about getting her comfortable in the car," he said, "and with the variety of tracks she's running, seat time will be incredibly valuable. A guaranteed spot in the race ensures she'll have the opportunity to make as many laps as possible."
Patrick's 10-race schedule is nearly full. It starts with the Daytona 500 on February 26th, moves to Darlington Raceway (May 12), at Charlotte Motor Speedway--instead of Indy--on May 27, on to Bristol Motor Speedway, aka Thunder Valley (August 25), the Labor Day race at Atlanta Motor Speedway September 2, Chicagoland Speedway near her family's home in Illinois on September 16 and two weeks later on the Monster Mile at Dover International Speedway.
Patrick races at Texas Motor Speedway on November 4 and near her home at Phoenix International Raceway on November 11. The final race is still to be determined, but SHR's plan is to assess Patrick's development as the season winds through and then choose the remaining venue "based on need and competitive reasoning," the team said.
Stewart is focused on grooming Patrick as best he can for a full-time Sprint Cup schedule in 2013. "There are short tracks, intermediate 1.5-mile ovals and some unique tracks, like Darlington and Phoenix" on the newly- minted Sprint Cup driver's 2012 schedule. "The point is to expose her to as many challenges as possible so that she'll know what to expect in 2013."