Danica Patrick Faces Tougher Competition at Daytona
Danica Patrick is pleased with her progress in stock car racing but understands she’ll face a significant challenge in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide race at Daytona International Speedway.
Her primary goal: simply finish the race and learn as much as she can along the way, calling it “300 miles of practice.”
Patrick continued to stay out of trouble and get more comfortable in the draft during a Nationwide series practice session Thursday morning.
She posted the fifth-fastest speed after coming in 26th on the speed charts yesterday, but Patrick and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. have noted that practice speeds aren’t particularly relevant at Daytona because they don’t necessarily indicate how a car will perform in the race.
“They told me not to look at the speed chart yesterday when I was 26th, because it doesn’t really matter,” Patrick said. “I’m not going to look at it today because I’m fifth, because it supposedly doesn’t matter.”
Patrick finished sixth in an ARCA race at Daytona last weekend, and Saturday will be her NASCAR race debut.
“This is a whole ‘nother ball of wax this weekend,” Patrick said. “This car is not as easy to drive, there’s a lot of really great drivers out there, really great teams out there. And everybody’s running close, and everybody wants to make that next step up to Cup. So this is a much different situation for me.”
In addition to running against a more skilled group of drivers Saturday, Patrick also must cope with a style of car that requires more driving skill than in ARCA.
“It’s not just put your foot down, drive around wherever you want out there,” Patrick said. “You’ve got to be up on the wheel a little bit in this car.”
Patrick will drive part time in the Nationwide series for JR Motorsports this season, but has said her full-time ride in the IndyCar series is her top priority. She still is driven to win IndyCar’s biggest event, the Indianapolis 500.
Still, Patrick keeps using the same word over and over in describing stock-car racing — “fun” — and hasn’t ruled out a full-time switch to NASCAR in the future.
“It’s like having two kids,” Patrick said. “I can’t pick.”
And while Patrick has been somewhat surprised by the level of media attention her presence in NASCAR is receiving, she says she can’t control what’s being said or written about her and isn’t out to overshadow other drivers.
“That’s not my mission, is to be the big story,” Patrick said.