Danica Patrick has plenty to worry about in the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. She needs to step up her game, and prove she belongs at the top level of the sport. She needs to convince her sponsor, GoDaddy, she is still worthy of the millions of dollars in support they provide her every year. But, perhaps, the biggest thing she needs to worry about is another driver, Clint Bowyer.
No, Bowyer doesn’t hold a grudge against the driver of the number 10 Chevrolet for something she has done to him on the track. And as far as anyone knows Bowyer doesn’t have anything against Danica’s boyfriend, Roush/Fenway Racing driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
What Bowyer does have is an expiring driver contract with Michael Waltrip Racing, and an overwhelming desire to not only win races, but win championships as well. He may see a spot with Stewart-Haas Racing as the answer to both of his quests.
While there is no doubting SHR has built itself into a Sprint Cup powerhouse team in the last few years, the same can’t be said for MWR. In fact, a close look at the team Michael Waltrip sacrificed so much for, personally to build, gives the impression of a team about to take a step back after several years of forward progress.
The controversy at Richmond last year hit the MWR team hard. When long-time sponsor, NAPA, decided to end it’s relationship with the team at the conclusion of the 2013 season it affected much more than just driver Martin Truex Jr. What many on the outside of the sport don’t realize is, sponsorship money is not just spent on the car which carries the company’s name. It is spent on research, and most importantly, talented people like engineers, who improve the whole team’s on track performance.
Clint Bowyer is as smart outside of a race car as he is fast when he is in one. He can take a look around him, and see just one other full-time team at MWR, one which will be competing for the first time with one full-time driver instead of the rotating lineup of pilots who steered the car last season. One which will have a driver who has faced serious health concerns over the past several seasons, Brian Vickers. The third MWR car to compete in 2014 will carry a lineup of drivers consisting of Waltrip, Jeff Burton, and Joe Nemechek.
Compare that to a quick look at the talent already at SHR. Two former Sprint Cup Champions in Tony Stewart, and Kurt Busch, and Kevin Harvick, who is a contender for the championship each season. Danica Patrick, who has yet to win a race in NASCAR, is the weakest link in the organization.
Bowyer would have to feel he would be quite an upgrade over Patrick for the SHR team, and many would agree. A team of drivers that included Stewart, Busch, Harvick, and Bowyer, would have to be considered a super-team that could even rival the team of Hendrick Motorsports with their lineup of Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, and Kasey Kahne.
Another reason Danica needs to worry about Bowyer in 2014 is sponsorship. The biggest thing the former Indy Car race winner brought with her to NASCAR was her sponsorship dollars. While some have suggested her long-time supporter GoDaddy may be looking in a different direction in the very near future, you would have to think Bowyer’s sponsor Five Hour Energy would gladly follow him in a move to SHR.
Danica Patrick spent much of 2013 looking in her mirror for the next driver looking to get past her on the track. In 2014, she may just be watching the doors of SHR for a visit from Clint Bowyer. A visit that may have much bigger consequences for her than anything that happens on the track.