Despite a performance in the Daytona 500 that puts her in the record books, Danica Patrick heads into this weekend's NASCAR race at Phoenix International Speedway with far different expectations.
While Daytona represents the first official Sprint Cup Series race of the year, Patrick, like most drivers, sees Phoenix as the true start to the season. This is in part because the one-mile oval has characteristics that closely resemble the majority of tracks that make up the bulk of the schedule, with minimal banking and a place where passing can be a challenge.
And because it's also the kind of track where she has traditionally struggled -- granted in limited seat time -- Patrick, while not pessimistic about her chances this weekend, does have a more pragmatic approach.
"I need to keep realistic expectations, and I think everybody else does, too," Patrick said Friday at Phoenix. "Things like being able to get up-to-speed quickly; knowing what I want in the car; how to push it to its limit and what its limit is are things that are going to begin to be tested now. That's something that you don't really face at Daytona."
One reason, however, that she is looking forward to Sunday is the success she had here in November.
In what was just her second race working with crew chief Tony Gibson, Patrick was in line for a solid result before being collected in a multi-car wreck that blocked the start/finish line and left her no room to maneuver.
Although she didn't the result she wanted, Patrick did refer to the race here last fall as a "breakthrough" and that moment where everything began to click for her.
Yet even as she turned her attention to Phoenix on Friday, Patrick was still reflecting on last week where she became the first woman to lead a lap in the Daytona 500 en route to an eighth-place finish -- the highest for woman in the "Great American Race."
In particular, Patrick has been lamenting her strategy on the final lap where she was running third but hesitation on her part cost a shot at the win.
"I was disappointed at the end of the race that I just didn't have a better grasp as to what I needed to do to shoot for a better finish than where I was," she said.
"I was just frustrated that I didn't have a better plan."
Patrick did take solace in the fact that afterward her fellow drivers were complimentary about her decision-making skills and how she handled herself racing in a large pack.
"To have somebody like Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson tell me that on some level I made good decisions out there at the very end was a really nice thing for them to say," Patrick said. "It makes me feel a little bit better. I still feel like I want to have a better plan in the future, but in that moment that I had made some good decisions.
"It was appreciated."