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January 21. 2013 5:45PM

Sprint Series rookie Danica Patrick cautiously optimistic

Crew chief Tony Gibson owner/teammate Tony Stewart spoke highly of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie Danica Patrick during the Stewart-Haas Racing press conference on Monday.
But in commenting about her own expectations for this season, the driver of the No. 10 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing took a decidedly more reserved tone.
"We are going to be 'intelligently patient,' " said Patrick during Day 1 of the Sprint Media Tour, hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. "With on board, we've been able to take it nice and slow, and have been able to learn and take our time before jumping into the deep end."
Patrick will officially make the plunge after a modest first full season in the Nationwide Series, which saw her net four top-10s and a pole. But it was a tremendous learning experience for Patrick, who has the unwavering support of her boss behind her.
"It's not only IndyCar drivers, but drivers in general … there's a day where the light switch clicked on and you get that feel you were looking for," said Stewart, when asked about his confidence level in Patrick. "I think Danica has done a lot in a very short amount of time."
The coming season offers a clean slate not only for Patrick but for all three Stewart-Haas Racing drivers. Patrick will race her first full season in the Cup Series; Stewart – the 2011 Cup champion – is eyeing a rebound after a sub-par 2012; and Ryan Newman is hoping a reunion with longtime crew chief Matt Borland will be the answer to missing the Chase for the championship in two of the last three seasons.
"I'm really looking forward to working with him again," said Borland, who guided Newman to 12 victories in four seasons (2002-05) with Penske, including a career-high eight wins in 2003. "We've got a whole new group of guys and we're looking forward to that gelling and coming together."
"From the ownership side, looking out the window it's been very busy downstairs. Our guys have done a great job and as a car owner I'm really proud of what I see," Stewart said. "And if these new (Gen-6) cars race as good as they drive, it's going to be an awesome year."
Stewart, in his capacity as owner of Eldora Speedway, deferred questions about the Camping World Truck Series race at the half-mile dirt track on July 24 to Roger Slack, the track's general manager and promoter. Despite very sloppy conditions, Slack was satisfied with the ultra-secretive testing that was held there back at the end of November.
"That's about the worst-case scenario we could have and I thought it went really well," Slack said. "I think it's going to be a great race."
Slack expects a deep field from many different series, everywhere from late model to Cup.
"The fans will be excited," said Slack, who noted that while he doesn't believe it to be necessary, they could still add one or two supporting races to the weekend docket. "This will be a race that can stand on its own."
"My mom and I had a huge fight because she wanted me to go to college – now she works for me." -- Stewart, when asked what his mother said to him to inspire him as a kid to become who he is today.
For more on the Sprint Media Tour, see this week's print and e-editions of the New Hampshire Union Leader, and follow us on Twitter @NHULSports.

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