Tony Stewart insists he still has faith in Danica Patrick's ability to deliver in NASCAR despite her tough first full season in stock cars.
Former IndyCar star Patrick is running a limited Sprint Cup campaign for reigning champion Stewart's Stewart-Haas operation this year, alongside a Nationwide program with JR Motorsports. She kicked it off in style with pole for the Nationwide opener at Daytona. Since then she has only taken two top-10 finishes – at Texas and Bristol – although incidents spoiled competitive runs at Daytona and on the Road America and Montreal road courses. In eight Cup starts so far, Patrick's best result is 25th in the Chicagoland Chase opener.
Despite this lack of success, Stewart is adamant that Patrick only needs more experience in order to deliver.
"She has been very eager to get to the Cup series and I still think more so than some people do that she has the ability to be successful at this level," said Stewart. "The learning curve that she is going through has been a lot shorter than what it probably should have been.
"It is hard because she is running against top-notch guys, top-notch teams. There is not enough time to allow her to get caught up at this point, but she is still learning.
"She will realize that next year. She is a confident person and part of my job as a car owner is to say, 'Hey I know it's frustrating at times, but trust me, there is a benefit to what we are doing. I've been there before, I know.' Though she may not see the benefit of it right now, she will next year."
Although Patrick acknowledged that 2012 was all about preparing for next year's full-time Cup move, she said she wished she had more to show for her season.
"We all want to get faster, we all want to be more competitive and I feel like we've been inching a little bit closer here at the end of the year," Patrick said. "I don't know if we'll get all the way by the end of this season but making progress is key.
"For me, ultimately because I'm moving on, it's about learning and understanding cars, understanding changes, and just getting a better grasp of all of the elements for the weekend. Ultimately I am disappointed with the results. I wish they were better. I wish there were better things on the record books. I would imagine a lot of drivers can say that at the end of the year."
Patrick's team also saw a shake-up recently when her crew chief Tony Eury Jr., with whom she had worked since her maiden NASCAR outing, was replaced. Tony Gibson, currently working as crew chief for Ryan Newman, will move to the position alongside Patrick for her next Cup outing at Texas in a couple of weeks.