Danica Patrick will jump back into a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car next week at Bristol, and her team owner Tony Stewart thinks people should stop putting her under such a harsh microscope.
"I'll be honest, I wish everybody would get off her back and just let her go race and let her learn," Stewart said Friday at Michigan International Speedway. "Everybody is putting so much pressure on her and so much focus on her. Going to a place that you've been to is obviously going to help, but everybody needs to take a step back and let this girl learn and do what she is trying to do there."
Stewart said Patrick's presence has been a "double-edged sword." It's great from the publicity side, he said, but the intense scrutiny over her results is too much. Stewart even gets nervous talking about her because of the bright spotlight on all things Danica, he said.
"I just hope everybody respects her enough to give her the room to know that whether she makes three laps or whether she finishes the whole race, the whole goal is to just learn," he said.
Stewart said he believes the more any driver runs in a car, the better that person will get. So it's "not rocket science" to figure out Patrick needs more laps in a Cup car before making the jump to run the series full-time next season.
"Even if you are running fifth or 25th, you are learning something," he said. "The goal of these 10 (Cup) races – which is exactly what we said back on the media tour clear back in January – was that these races are designed to give her laps in the car and get her more time and experience.
"The good thing is she is excited about it and that is the attitude you have to have going into it."
Patrick has raced in three Sprint Cup Series events so far and will compete in seven of the final 13 races. She finished 38th at the Daytona 500, 31st in the Southern 500 and 30th in the Coca-Cola 600.
Her remaining races are Bristol, Atlanta, Chicago, Dover, Kansas, Texas and Phoenix. Stewart picked what he thought were 10 of the hardest races on the Cup schedule in order to help her gain experience for next season.