Colleague: Patrick will join NASCAR

Tony Stewart expects one day to be trading paint with Danica Patrick.

While racing’s most prominent female driver ponders her options for next year, Stewart said Saturday he has no doubts that Patrick eventually will make the jump to stock cars.

He should know: They’ve talked frequently about what it would take for Patrick to go from open-wheel racing to the heavier cars in NASCAR.

“She’s excited about this and making this change,” said Stewart, who leads the Sprint Cup standings heading into tonight’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “I can pretty much guarantee at some point she’s going to be over here.”

Stewart made the same jump more than a decade ago, leaving the Indy Racing League for a more lucrative NASCAR deal. He has become something of a mentor to Patrick, who visited his racing shop and talked with him at sponsor appearances.

“She’s looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Hey, this is what I want to do. It looks like fun. It looks like a lot of work, but it looks like fun,’ ” Stewart said. “She doesn’t have some misguided idea that it’s going to be easy doing it. She wants to do it the right way.”

He doesn’t expect Patrick to follow the path taken by Dario Franchitti, an Indy car star who jumped straight to Sprint Cup in 2008 without any stock-car experience and didn’t make it through the season. He’s now back in the open-wheel series.

Stewart said he thinks Patrick will work out some sort of deal that allows her to stay in Indy cars for at least another year or two while she gets the feel of the bulkier machines running part time in a lower series, such as Nationwide.

“You’ve got to learn,” Stewart said. “You’ve got to get used to the heavier race car, less downforce, smaller tires.”

Patrick, the only woman to win a major-series race and the highest-finishing female in Indianapolis 500 history, has declined to discuss her plans, saying she is focused on finishing this season. She’s in the final year of her contract with Andretti Green Racing, but team owner Michael Andretti said two weeks ago they were close to an extension.

• HAMLIN CAR THEFT — Police in Cornelius, N.C., released surveillance footage from a security camera at Denny Hamlin’s home in hopes it will lend clues about the theft of a luxury car from the NASCAR star’s driveway.

The 2008 Lexus LS was reported stolen Aug. 18. Footage shows a car pull up to the gate at Hamlin’s suburban Charlotte home, and two men walk down his driveway. As the Lexus is pulled through the gate, a female can be seen walking around the waiting car and climbing into the driver seat.

Both cars then pull away.

A police report lists the car value at $50,000 and shows it is owned by Toyota Motorsales.

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