Scott Fowler

Q&A: Darrell Waltrip on Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick , more

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick slaps hands with fans during driver introductions for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in February 2015.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick slaps hands with fans during driver introductions for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in February 2015. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

I talked last week with former driver Darrell Waltrip, the NASCAR Hall of Famer and three-time Cup champion who is the lead TV analyst for Fox Sports’ coverage of NASCAR. Answers are edited for brevity and clarity.

Q. We are six races into NASCAR’s 2015 season. Who’s got the best car?

A. I haven’t seen anyone dominate like the 4 car (with driver Kevin Harvick) did last year, but that’s still the best car, week in and week out. At this point, that is your most likely champion – again.

Q. How about a surprise from this season so far?

A. The struggles of Roush Fenway Racing. For the life of me, a team with that kind of resources, and the connections that they have – even the Petty cars are better than the Roush cars right now. That’s not only unheard of, it’s uncalled for in my opinion. ... And I know it’s frustrating because Greg Biffle said it in Fontana. He said, ‘Man, we’re dying a slow death here.’ And they have been for a long time.

Q. Who will the next big star be in NASCAR?

A. Everybody’s banking on Chase Elliott for the future, but it’s too early to tell. You can be an Xfinity champion – Ricky Stenhouse won that thing twice – and that doesn’t mean you’re going to be a success in Sprint Cup. Kyle Larson? They keep saying he’s the guy who’s going to win next, but he hasn’t done it yet. You’ve got to do it.

Q. What do you think about Danica Patrick’s career at this point?

A. This is a contract year. The GoDaddy deal is up. Her deal is up. This is the crossroads. ... The marketing side of it, that’s unlimited as far as what she can do and bring to the table. ... It’s not like she’s terrible. She’s a 15- to 20th-place car every week. And every now and then she knocks down a top-10. That’ll keep you in the game.

Q. But Danica has never come close to winning – has never had a Top-5 – in 88 Cup starts. By that definition, has she ever “done it?”

A. Well, she’s Danica Patrick. She’s a marketing machine. And she takes that and parlays that into a pretty good race car and a pretty good driver. I’m not saying she can’t ever win. I never would do that. I’m not going to do a Richard Petty and say she’ll never win. As long as we run Daytona and Talladega, she’s always got a chance at winning one of those races.

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