Danica Patrick Cautious About Expectations For 2011 NASCAR Season

After a humbling first season in the Nationwide Series, Danica Patrick is back for another try. And she hopes you'll believe she's a good driver.

"I want to do well," she said. "I want you (media) guys to have good things to write about me. I want people to be entertained. I want them to believe in me as a driver. I mean, yeah, it's a big part of my job. If people don't believe that I'm good and care about me, then I have less of a job."

Of course, believing and doing are entirely different – as the results showed last season. Though both she and JR Motorsports declared top-15 finishes would be the goal heading into 2010 (which was certainly ambitious for someone who had never driven a stock car), it turned out Patrick managed no top-15s and only one top-20 in her 13 races.

She reminded reporters about her lack of experience several times during NASCAR Media Day on Thursday and tried to lower expectations for the upcoming season.

Patrick said it's "not realistic" to expect she'd get great results all the time and said she's realized "it's OK if I don't set the world on fire every weekend."

She compared herself to some of NASCAR's top drivers who struggle at times, noting: "Let's face it – there's a hell of a lot of really good Cup drivers where sometimes, you just have a bad weekend and you don't finish well. It doesn't make them not a good driver, it just means that something in the situation wasn't right."

Patrick emphasized there were times when she was "relatively competitive" last year but didn't get the results she wanted. As the year went on, her solution was to be "a little more optimistic...in not letting the results get to me so much."

Though she's looking forward to the season, Patrick confessed to reporters that she's nervous people will place higher expectations on her the second time she comes to a track, thinking she'll do better.

"Thank God I did better at Fontana that second time," she said. "Now I would imagine that would be the expectation for all the tracks I go back to for the second time. That's the other side of it – there was such an improvement from the first to second time that it becomes the new standard. But that's probably not going to happen."

In fact, she said, it's a major reason she opted to skip the Daytona ARCA race this year after finishing sixth last year.

"To be honest, if I go back for a second time – I guess this is maybe my own fear – but you all expect me to do better,"  she said. "There's that added pressure of like, it's not just to go out there and drive around for the day. It's like, OK, I did it last year and I need to do it better this year. So that's an added pressure – public perception.

"And it's a different car as well. I felt like whenever I drove a different car...they feel different. They do. When I got out onto the track in a Nationwide car, I thought, 'This is a lot harder.'"

Plus, she added, she wasn't sure if her schedule would allow for an ARCA race. Staying in Daytona for two weeks (like the Cup drivers do) seemed like a big time commitment.

"It takes a lot of time, so I didn't know what the schedule would allow," she said. "I mean, I was here for a couple of weeks last year."

Patrick, asked about the large group of reporters surrounding her table at Media Day compared to other drivers, said she felt relieved to see people after the numbers dwindled after some races last year.

"I just feel really lucky," she said. "I'm lucky people care about my story and they want to read about it or hear about it, and that you all write about it. At this point in time, I feel weird when you're all not around."

One more note: Patrick's contract is up in both Nationwide and IndyCar at the end of this year, which means she could be in for a big payday if she decides to commit to NASCAR full-time. But she said it's too early to make such decisions.

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