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We finally know where Danica Patrick's 10th and final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start will take place this season: At Kansas Speedway in October.
Patrick's 10th race had been TBA ever since she announced the schedule last year, but it was finally released today. Stewart-Haas Racing chose Kansas because the newly repaved track will allow for an extra test day – and Patrick needs all the track time she can get.
"With the testing rules the way they are, we can't test with her at tracks where NASCAR's top three series compete," SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli said. "That extra day of testing will be huge for her. With the amount of 1.5-mile ovals on the schedule, it made sense to have her compete at Kansas to better prepare her for 2013."
So far, Patrick has competed in three Cup races: The Daytona 500, Darlington and the Coca-Cola 600. Her best finish is 30th (at Charlotte) and she hasn't finished less than five laps down in any of the races so far.
Here's a look at the rest of Patrick's schedule for 2012:
Aug. 25 – Bristol
Sept. 2 – Atlanta
Sept. 16 – Chicago
Sept. 30 – Dover
Oct. 21 – Kansas
Nov. 4 – Texas
Nov. 11 – Phoenix
Danica Patrick entered Friday night's Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway confident and thinking it was her best chance to score her maiden NASCAR win.
But her night came to an unexpected end on lap 84, when Patrick was left with nowhere to go when Jeffrey Earnhardt was turned off of Turn 2. In the ensuing chaos, Patrick's car veered sideways and savagely hit the backstretch wall.
"I have no idea because I didn't see it," Patrick said when asked what happened. "All I saw was that there was an accident happening in front of me and I went low to miss it and other than that, honestly I would be making it up from whatever happened from there on out."
For most of the evening, it appeared Patrick's No. 7 car for JR Motorsports was one of the cars to beat as she ran with the lead pack throughout and even paced the field for 14 laps.
Ultimately, though, all this did was make the end result all the more disappointing.
"It's just really frustrating when I have as fast as a car as I did," Patrick said. "I know Tony (Eury, crew chief) Jr. is frustrated. I know he expected to see it in Victory Lane and I did, too –- especially after the big accident in (Turns) 1 and 2, I thought, ‘This job got a little easier.'"
But it wasn't to be and instead of celebrating her first series win, Patrick's night ended early with a wrecked race car –- a car she thought was good enough to win with.
"I'm sure there were plenty of other cars that had pretty darn good speed, especially with the way you could work in tandems –- obviously tandems are the stronger way to go," Patrick said. "But I definitely think I had one of the cars to beat tonight, absolutely."
Danica Patrick will win tonight's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway...according to Danica Patrick.
Well, kind of.
Patrick was a guest on The Dan Patrick Show on Friday morning, and host Dan Patrick (no relation) nudged her toward making a prediction at the end of the interview.
Dan: "If you want to call your shot that you'll win tonight, might as well do it."
Danica: "... I heard one of the officials come over and say all the officials are saying I'm going to win the race tonight. They've been around a long time and seen a lot of races, so I'm going to go with the officials on this one."
Dan: "You're calling your shot. Danica Patrick will win tonight's race at Daytona."
Danica: "Get ready."
Wow. So Danica Patrick says she's going to win her first NASCAR race tonight at Daytona? Did Patrick (Danica, not Dan) really say that?
"That's true, that's true," Patrick said with a laugh, speaking a few hours after her interview with the other Patrick. "But then I was taking a shower after washing off my hairspray and makeup and I was like, 'Wait a second. That kind of sounded like a jerk thing to say!' So what I really should have said is, 'Well I shouldn't be betting against myself, should I?'
"So that's my answer. I really shouldn't bet against myself."
Patrick said she wasn't making a guarantee that she'd win, because there are no guarantees in racing.
"You all know that," she said. "It's like when somebody comes up and asks you, 'Are you going to win tonight?' Well, I'm going to try! That's the best I can do."
But because of her experience at Daytona (she's run more laps here than any other NASCAR track) and her car (JR Motorsports always has good superspeedway cars), Patrick said she has "as good a chance as ever" to win her first race tonight.
And reality, that makes her anything but confident enough to call her shot.
"I guess you could say I'm a little nervous," she said.
Despite some setbacks this season – her first full-time campaign in the NASCAR Nationwide Series – Danica Patrick prefers to focus on the positives instead of dwelling on her lackluster finishes.
"I could sort of go through all the the things I think have been better over the year so far – and there's been quite a few of them," she said Friday at Michigan International Speedway. "So instead of getting upset about the individual weekends and the results, it's better to think about what you've improved on and the things you need to improve on moving forward so your results keep getting better."
Patrick is 11th in the point standings after the first 12 races of the season, but she has just one top-10 finish. She has led three laps this year – all at restrictor-plate tracks.
But the JR Motorsports driver indicated a belief that her performance has been dragged down by things happening out of her control.
"I can't change anything about the fact that stuff just happens in the race and bad luck comes," she said. "All we can do is work really hard and be as fast as we can in practice and qualify as fast as we can and let it all play out."
Patrick said she needs to keep getting better despite the progress she feels she's made, but that improvement will happen.
"We will (improve)," she said. "It's just going to take time."
Danica Patrick made it official this afternoon: The Go Daddy girl is coming to NASCAR on a full-time basis in 2012.
What will this mean for Danica, for NASCAR and for race fans? SB Nation's Jeff Gluck and Jay Pennell attempted to tackle that question and more below.
Q: Who benefits most from this move – Danica, NASCAR or the teams she's joining?
Gluck: Gotta be Danica. If you look at the Nationwide Series ratings for the races Danica has been in, there hasn't been any sort of significant change (aside from her first two races) and attendance hasn't noticeably increased. Of course there will be an initial bump in attention – particularly around the Daytona 500 next year – but NASCAR isn't going to suddenly regain its former popularity just because Danica is around. She's the one who is going to be raking in the money, the endorsements and the fame. NASCAR and her teams will benefit, but not as much as she will.
Pennell: I think it is a win, win, win situation for all parties involved. Obviously Danica is bringing in the dough and basking in the attention from this move, but both NASCAR and the teams she is joining will benefit as well. For NASCAR, perhaps the attendance will not see a marked increase, but this is yet another winning moment the sport can dangle over the head of American open-wheel racing. Instead of staying in the IndyCar ranks and perhaps competing on a weekly basis for wins, Danica – like others before her and perhaps some yet to come – have decided NASCAR is the No. 1 form of motorsports in America and the place to be. For the teams she joins, her presence brings the all-important sponsorship dollars that are more than hard to come by in a down economy as we are experiencing these days.
Q: Did Danica go about this process the "right" way?
Gluck: For the most part, yes. The announcement and the decision got dragged out, but there's understandably a lot of details and negotiations that go into these things. My one issue with her NASCAR arrival is she probably should have tried more of a Travis Pastrana plan with K&N races to start with and then jumped into Nationwide. It was kind of embarrassing when she didn't know how anything worked the first few races.
Pennell: I agree. Her decision to come to NASCAR was one that was widely speculated and long-rumored, but I think she handled things well behind the scenes and in the media. We cannot necessarily blame Danica for the media furor over her transition from IndyCar, as you said, those things take time – just ask Carl Edwards.
Q: What are your realistic expectations for how Danica will fare in Nationwide next year?
Gluck: Steve Wallace is eighth in points and has five top-10s so far this year – and Danica isn't nearly as good of a stock car driver as even Wallace is. Any full-time Nationwide driver on a well-funded team should finish in the top 10 in the standings (there aren't that many), so I expect her to be 10th in points with about a half-dozen top-10 finishes next season. She'll occasionally hit on the track where she can challenge for a top-five, but she won't win (unless it's fuel strategy) and she'll mostly run around 15th-20th all year.
Pennell: I think Jerry Baxter and a few others might argue your point about Steven Wallace, but that's another story. I was trying to explain this to a casual fan last night who said he did not expect much from her once she made the jump to full-time racing. I think once she commits herself 100 percent to NASCAR her attention and focus will lead to better results and marked improvement throughout the year.
I do not expect her to light the world on fire once the season starts, but once she develops that routine and rapport with the crew and gets accustomed to racing the same competitors week-in and week-out, I think she will start to move up the finishing order. I don't foresee her earning a victory in her first season – look how hard it is for Nationwide Series regulars like Jason Leffler, Justin Allgaier and others to win – but I would not rule out the possibility at Daytona or Talladega (using the draft) or a pit strategy call.
Q: And what about for her seven Sprint Cup races?
Gluck: Sprint Cup is a completely different story. I don't care what kind of equipment she has: Unless it's a restrictor-plate race or a fuel mileage race, there's no way she's going to finish in the top 30 in any race on her own merits next year. It's hard for any NASCAR Cup rookie to do well, let alone someone with as little experience as Danica. Does anyone realize that even start-and-park drivers could do better in Danica's Cup car next year?
Pennell: Two words: Sam Hornish. He is a much more accomplished driver in the open-wheel ranks and amounted to very little when he made the move to the Sprint Cup Series. Danica is in for a rude awakening if she believes she can jump into one of those cars and be competitive.
Question: Who will have more stories written about them leading into next year's Daytona 500 – Danica or Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
Gluck: Danica. The mainstream sports media is going to love this story and eat it up. ESPN is going to promote it everywhere. FOX will feature her on its Daytona 500 promos. There will be so much hype about Danica's Cup debut, you won't know anyone else is even in the race.
Pennell: Perhaps they will rename it the Danica 500.
Finally making official the worst-kept secret in racing, current IndyCar Series driver Danica Patrick announced Thursday she will drive a full-time schedule in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2012, along with a partial Sprint Cup Series schedule.
Patrick will drive for her current Nationwide team, the Dale Earnhardt Jr.-owned JR Motorsports, as well as "eight to 10 races" in the Sprint Cup Series for Tony Stewart's Stewart-Haas Racing.
"I've truly enjoyed my experience in NASCAR to the point that I want to do it full-time," she said at sponsor Go Daddy's headquarters. "I feel like in the last year, I've really come around much more on the track and top-10s are happening much more frequently. I feel like I'm getting it more and more all the time. ... I feel really confident I can be successful in the future."
Patrick did not say which Sprint Cup races she would run next season (she was iffy on the possibility of running the Daytona 500), nor did she say whether she would drive in next season's Indianapolis 500, which she called "the greatest race in the world."
She did indicate a desire to drive at Indy, however. Patrick also said her goal is to drive a full Sprint Cup Series schedule in 2013.
NASCAR chairman Brian France released a rare statement of welcome, saying NASCAR was "pleased" that Patrick decided to join NASCAR full-time.
"Danica has shown solid improvement in NASCAR and we believe her decision to run full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, with additional races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will be exciting for our fans and a great challenge for her," France said.
It's unclear whether what number Patrick's car in the Cup Series will be. She's long used the No. 7 (and will continue to do so in the Nationwide Series) but Robby Gordon currently uses that number in Cup.
So why is Patrick making this move? It's not about the money, she said – though there is certainly far more money in NASCAR than in IndyCar – but more about how much she likes NASCAR.
"I made this decision because of how much I enjoy driving stock cars and, in particular, how much I enjoy racing stock cars," she said. "The races are so interesting. There are so many pit stops, there are so many strategies that play out. You have to take care of your car, you have to know when to push with it.
"I just really have fun with it. It's really about enjoying the racing and enjoying the people and my life when I'm at those races."
The tease is over, but the hype has just begun.
Danica Patrick will finally reveal Thursday that she's coming to NASCAR on a full-time basis in 2012. Patrick is expected to announce her plans at the Arizona headquarters of sponsor GoDaddy.com.
Patrick will be "putting the rumors to rest with the real story in her own words," according to a Go Daddy press release. The announcement will take place at noon Eastern/9 a.m. Pacific time and will be streamed online at GoDaddy.com/Danica.
What will she announce? As has been widely reported, Patrick will reveal that she's driving a full season for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series – with the possible exception of running the Indy 500 – and may also unveil her partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing in the Sprint Cup Series.
Patrick can run seven races in the Cup Series next season without losing her rookie of the year eligibility for a possible full-season Cup run in 2013.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday there was nothing new to report with Danica Patrick despite an ESPN story this week that reiterated the IndyCar Series star was coming to NASCAR.
"There ain't been no announcement yet, so I don't know why you would go report that," Earnhardt Jr. told ESPN's Marty Smith, who had followed up his report with a question about Patrick. "We've enjoyed working with her. Would love to keep working with her. When there's something to announce, they'll announce it."
When Smith then tried to ask a "hypothetical" question about Patrick, Earnhardt Jr. said, "I don't deal in hypotheticals" and added, "I can't do you no favors today."
Earnhardt Jr. acknowledged later, however, that his sister Kelley was doing all the negotiating and that Earnhardt Jr. hadn't spoken to Patrick since she was at the Daytona race in July. The ESPN report said Patrick would announce her plans next week.
NASCAR's most popular driver cited his lack of involvement in the negotiations as evidence that he's focused more than ever on his racing.
"People always used to say that I wasn't focused, I had too many things going on, this, that and the other," he said. "You'd be surprised the little amount of things I have to worry about. It's basically this race car right here and not being late to anything. That's all I have to worry about."
Earnhardt Jr. said he "would like to think" he had veto power over any decisions at JR Motorsports, but added he's "tried to exercise it a few times and it worked, and sometimes it doesn't."
"My sister can put up a pretty convincing argument," he said. "She went to college to learn about how to be a businesswoman and I went to college to learn how to build an (engine) starter and get my inspection license. I trust her opinion."
In regard to Patrick's performance on the track, Earnhardt Jr. said the Go Daddy girl has achieved "success" in what she's accomplished already in NASCAR.
"She's awesome about" adapting to the Nationwide car, he said. "She seems like she's fun to work with."
ESPN is reporting that Danica Patrick will formally announce her intent to move to NASCAR full-time in 2012 next week, according to sources.
Following an Associated Press report earlier in the week that Danica Patrick was close to completing a deal to run the full Nationwide Series schedule for JR Motorsports in 2012, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. remained quiet on the rumors on Friday at Pocono Raceway.
Earnhardt Jr. said there was no news on the Danica front, adding he is not in the middle of negotiations but nothing has changed over the past week.
When asked if he would consider bringing Mark Martin on as a mentor for Patrick at JR Motorsports, Earnhardt Jr. said the money simply is not there.
"We can't consider adding to our program without money, and money is tight," he said.
The story also indicated Patrick was working on a deal to run a handful of Sprint Cup Series races with Stewart-Haas Racing, something Earnhardt Jr. believes should be put off until she is ready.
"I think that anyone that comes into the sport – anyone – needs two or three years in the Trucks and Nationwide Series to step into the Cup Series comfortably," he said. "Two or three years in the Nationwide Series is a pretty decent amount (of time), and that would be rushing it in my mind."
Earnhardt Jr. said not only are the Sprint Cup cars a "big challenge" but the demands of the schedule, the travel and everything associated with the series is "a big pool to jump in right off the bat."
"It's just good for any driver, any young guy who comes into this sport to really take his time," he said. "I know once you get that opportunity in front of you, you're afraid it might be the only opportunity you have, but sometimes it's smarter to gain more experience at the Nationwide level because some guys come in a little early and they blow that opportunity and it turns out to be the only opportunity they ever get."
Danica Patrick emerged from the JR Motorsports team hauler right about the time her crew was wheeling her wrecked No. 7 car to the lift gate.
Patrick glanced at the demolished front end of the car and the pancaked right side. And she smiled.
"Who the hell did that?" she cracked.
She did, of course – with a lot of help from Mike Wallace in the last few hundred yards of Friday night's Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
Crashing as she crossed the finish line, Patrick was nonetheless pumped up after driving the most impressive NASCAR race of her career thus far. Though she was forced to settle for a 10th-place finish (six positions short of her career high), she led 13 laps on five different occasions and was a serious threat to win the race until the very end.
"It was really good to run up front and lead laps for real – not just like I got pushed up front for one lap," she said. "I led a lot of laps and I went to the front a lot. So that was a good feeling."
Patrick, the lead car of the two-car draft with teammate Aric Almirola, had started taking smaller gaps and squeezing her way through holes late in the race. Despite never having done tandem racing before – aside from a couple laps in the February Daytona race – Patrick quickly figured out the strategy and said to herself, 'Alright! I get how this works now.'
She compared it to cruising down the freeway and sailing into the open gaps – except at 200 mph. And she did it with much success.
Midway through her interview, Almirola came up from behind her and squeezed her shoulders. She turned around and gave him a high-five.
"Hey, good job out there, buddy," she told him. "Thank you. I hope I was OK. We were going for fucking broke there at the end."
"No worries," Almirola replied. "You were good."
Almirola told her if they would have waited another half-lap before making their move, they would have been up there with the leaders. But that comes with experience, he said.
Patrick, though, said, "We were going for it." And she'd made that clear as her voice rose in the final laps on the team radio.
"Let's go fucking fast here!" she said after taking the lead with four laps left.
"It was a different me on the radio," she said. "It probably sounded like a determined me. Confident and assertive. A fucking let's-go-get-'em kind of attitude. That's how I felt. I always feel the most aggressive when I feel like I can win, and that was where I was at."
It was a tremendous moment for those listening and watching in the stands, because it put Patrick's competitive fire on full display. The fans let out a roar as they saw her neon green GoDaddy car surge to the front.
"Hopefully I earned (drivers') respect out there some more," she said. "Whether you're a girl or a boy, young or new, you've got to earn the respect of your peers. And that's what I try to do every weekend."
Though she was clearly on a high after getting out of the car, she needed a few moments to collect herself. She had started to feel dizzy and, as she put it, "the dark was closing in on me."
But after recovering for a few minutes in the hauler, she was ready to go celebrate. Though she's an avid wine drinker, Patrick said she had different plans on Friday night.
"I abort mission on the wine after I've been in the car," she said. "I get so dehydrated...that I like to drink beer. So I'm going to go drink beer right now."
From the sounds of that – plus the way she drove in Friday's race – Patrick might be closer to adopting the NASCAR culture than anyone may have realized.
Unless you're skilled at reading between the lines, Danica Patrick said little about her NASCAR future on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.
Patrick, widely speculated to be making a full-time move to NASCAR next season, said she still doesn't know if it'll happen yet.
"Obviously I'm racing in NASCAR (part-time) and I've not made anyone wonder whether I like it," she said. "But other than that, as I've said from the beginning of the year, these things are complicated and they take time.
"Whether I'm coming here or not has yet to be signed, sealed and delivered. And I might not be. Only time will tell, and that timeline on my time of things...I'm really not sure."
So basically, it's still up in the air. But Patrick did reveal that she's the one who will ultimately make the decision – not her representatives.
"It comes down to my gut and my desire and where I feel like I'll be the happiest and where I feel like I'll be able to have the most success," she said. "And then after that, my team explores the options. But it always starts with where I want to be."
Will the potential sale of GoDaddy – who sponsors Patrick – affect her future? Patrick said everything, including the sale itself, is speculation.
"You all know how that stuff works," she said playfully. "You're like the kings and queens of (speculation) in here."
And if GoDaddy was sold?
"I don't know," she said. "It might not change anything; it might change everything. I'm not really sure."
Danica Patrick became the highest-finishing female in NASCAR history with a fourth-place finish at Las Vegas today – and I became officially wrong about her.
I've taken shots at Danica since her entrance into NASCAR for jumping into a top series too early without enough experience – and seeming to not be committed enough in the process. And when she started her career off by not even coming close to even her own expectations, I was sure my feelings were justified.
Since even IndyCar champions Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr. couldn't succeed in NASCAR, I figured all along that Danica would be an even bigger flop.
As it turns out, that's not true. Danica is doing a fine job learning at her own pace – and consistently getting better.
It's not even because of today's fourth-place finish at Las Vegas, either. The finish itself – which was going to be a solid top-10 until fuel mileage turned it into a top-five – was immaterial.
The way she raced and drove overall, staying clean while making smart decisions on the track and listening to the constant guidance of spotter T.J. Majors, was admirable. It was by far her best performance, and she looked like a completely different driver than she was at Las Vegas a year ago.
It had started to become clear toward the end of last season that I'd eventually have to eat crow on many of the harsh things I said about Danica; I just didn't expect this day would come so soon.
I doubt she ever read any of my critical blogs, but she probably sensed from my questions that I was a skeptic. To her credit, she was always professional and never made sarcastic remarks or refused to give me an answer.
Danica has proven it's possible to come into a series without any experience and slowly get better. Previously, I thought if a driver was ever going to be any good, they'd have to show flashes of brilliance immediately – which she obviously didn't.
Lesson learned. Now, based on the way she's adapted to stock-car racing, I think Danica can get consistent top-10s by the end of the season. If she commits herself to NASCAR full-time, she might even win a race at some point.
Yep, I said it.
Today's finish was a major milestone for Danica, and it shouldn't go without proper recognition. No female in the history of NASCAR has finished higher than she has – a woman named Sara Christian recorded a fifth-place finish in 1949, which was the second year NASCAR existed.
Danica was clearly in a celebratory mood afterward – not because she made history for a female, but because she had proved she belonged in NASCAR as a racer.
She hugged crew chief Tony Eury Jr. and every crew member in sight. She took a few steps out onto pit road and emphatically waved at the remaining fans in the stands, who cheered and waved back.
"I was hoping for a top-10, secretly," she said. "I didn't want to say that to the media, because then you'd expect me to finish in the top-10."
Danica said she didn't want to "create any sort of false expectation" going forward – especially for Bristol next week – but did allow that she's "making some real progress."
She was visibly thrilled and excited about her performance, her spirits buoyed. And why not? It was a good day.
I asked her how happy she was on a scale of one-to-10.
"Oh, gosh," she said with a laugh. "Today? Right now? I'm a 9."
So apparently, there's still room for improvement.
Danica Patrick recorded her career-best finish in the NASCAR Nationwide Series on Saturday at Daytona International Raceway, finishing 14th and leading a lap under green.
Here are some of her comments after the race:
On the race and using the two-car draft:
It was pretty fun. ... It was really about pushing each other. I pushed a little bit at the end – a little too late. It was really cool when Clint (Bowyer) was pushing me, and they told me I led a lap, at least, so that was really cool. But that just showed me (the two-car draft) is what you gotta do and that's what they did up front all day.
On why she didn't push more often in the draft:
I tried to push at the very, very beginning on the start. And it didn't really work. Like I kind of kept bouncing off of them. ... At the end there when it was the most chaotic, I was OK to push. You can't really see, though. So that's the problem, and it was the worst time to try it, really.
Other times I was trying to, but when you're in a long train like that...you don't want to push someone going into the trioval – that's not the right spot to do it.
I think it's just going to take some practice, and it also helps when somebody wants to do it with you, and they can drag the brake to make it happen.
I don't know if anyone did that or not, but it didn't seem like it. So that made it a little more difficult.
On whether she was happy with her performance:
Yeah. I mean, led a lap. It was really cool that Clint pushed me. I would have loved to try and work with him, I just didn't really know what to do, you know?
I really ran up front most of the day. ... I'm probably not to the point where if I pull out, people are going, 'OK, she's going, I'm going.' That takes awhile to earn the trust and respect of the other drivers. I'm not mad at that, it's just going to take time.
It was a good experience. There was a lot to learn, and I did learn a lot. It was cool to finish all the laps.
On whether she was more comfortable than last year at Daytona:
It's a whole different racetrack. It's a whole different game. The surface helps someone like me with less experience, because it's a bit easier out there. But I felt more calm inside the car, with all the things that are going on inside – keep an eye on all the temps, look in my mirrors, be right behind people, run up to the wall – whatever I needed to do.
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."
Since Danica Patrick has officially announced she will make her NASCAR debut by driving the Nationwide Series race at Daytona – a decision that has proved controversial already – fans have raised many questions and some have said they're downright angry.
Here's an attempt to provide some answers with the most accurate version of events:
Why is Danica doing the Nationwide race? She's being incredibly selfish to knock teammate Kelly Bires out of his ride.
That's what I thought at first, too. But now I'll admit I didn't know the whole backstory.
Let's start with what we knew all along: Due to a contractual agreement with sponsor Hellmann's, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has to drive the Daytona Nationwide race. And since there was only one car available (because another sponsor was not found) Dale Jr. had to drive the No. 88 car - the car that was scheduled to run a full season with Kelly Bires. When Danica announced she'd drive the No. 7 car, that officially left Bires out of a JRM ride for Daytona.
Exactly! So Danica is stealing Bires' ride, right?
Not quite. The team considers the No. 7 car to be its own separate deal: It exists solely because GoDaddy.com decided to come with Danica and sponsor her in a dozen races. The plan was that if the Daytona ARCA race went well, it would become a baker's dozen. After her sixth-place finish, it was decided Sunday - by the team, not just Danica - that the Nationwide race would be worth trying.
IF the team had decided Danica was not ready for the Nationwide race, then a decision would have been made as to whether Bires would drive the car. But there were other drivers that may have been even better fits for GoDaddy, such as GoDaddy-sponsored driver Mark Martin. Ultimately, Bires was never a shoo-in for the No. 7 car even if Danica wasn't going to drive it.
As JR Motorsports spokesman Mike Davis put it, "Danica isn't screwing anybody. Danica's just doing what she came to do."
That's totally lame. Bires is supposed to run a full season and will now miss the season opener? Why can't JR Motorsports just field a third car?
Co-owner Earnhardt Jr. said last week that bringing a third car was not feasible. It would cost at least $150,000 to bring two more cars (a primary and backup) and field another pit crew, etc. for an unsponsored ride, he said. And at this point, with JRM struggling to find sponsors to run the full season, that's just not a financial gamble the organization can take.
Said Davis: "We feel bad about the Kelly Bires situation and we're still digging hard to find more sponsorship for this year so we don't run into this situation again. Regardless on what kind of pay scale you have, everyone has a budget: You know what you can afford, and you would never go spend more money than that. A race team is no different. Sending more than two teams down there crosses the line for us on what we can do and can't do."
That's total crap! Earnhardt Jr. makes gazillions of dollars and he's the one who is ultimately bumping Bires out of the 88 car. Why doesn't he just open his fat wallet and spend the money himself to field the team?
You're assuming that isn't happening already. Davis inferred that Earnhardt Jr. is making a significant personal investment in the team.
"We committed the 88 run full-time this year, yet we only have part-time sponsorship," he said. "That other money's got to come from somewhere, doesn't it?"
Davis said he's heard from fans who say Earnhardt Jr. could afford to bring six cars to a race if he wanted to. So what gives, Junior?
The bottom line, Davis said, is "it's expensive and it doesn't make business sense to fork out personal money. There's [personal] money being poured into this team already."
OK, fine. So maybe it's not a good idea for Earnhardt Jr. to spend his own cash in this situation. But why doesn't JRM just buy out one of other teams – hell, even a start-and-park – so at least Bires can race and get some points?
That's a possibility. Davis said the biggest opponent right now is time, since it's already the week of the race. But if there's a team that could use the money and it's a Chevrolet (Bires likely has an agreement with the manufacturer that prohibits him from driving other makes), Davis said JRM could step up and get Bires in a car.
"We're going to look for those opportunities and hopefully there will be an opportunity that doesn't conflict," he said.
Well, forget JRM then. Can't Bires find his own ride for Daytona? And how's he feeling about all this?
Bires is free to search for his own ride, if he can find one. Unfortunately, there may have been some opportunities he didn't take in recent weeks because he planned on driving at Daytona. Most people, even team insiders, thought Danica wouldn't be ready for the Nationwide race and would make her debut at California. That has to sting for Bires, but he made it sound via his Twitter account that he's doing his best to be a team player.
"As everyone can see I will not be running Daytona," he tweeted. "Very bummed out about it! I will be ready to make a statement in Fontana.
"Let's be positive here everyone. JRM has given me a great opportunity to race. I know everyone's mad, but the bashing is unacceptable!"
But I'm still mad that Bires is in this situation! If I can't blame Danica or JR Motorsports, who can I blame?
As with most every other team in the sport right now, sponsors rule. In fact, sponsors perhaps have more power than ever before in regard to who drives their cars.
The bottom line is that in this struggling economy, a driver who can bring money trumps a driver who can bring talent. Teams would prefer both, but if given a choice, most are taking the former (see: John Wes Townley).
This money keeps the teams afloat in hopes they'll be able to field winning cars in the future. But there's no doubt that for now, teams have to give sponsors what they want.
In this case, Hellmann's wants the sport's most popular driver (for obvious reasons) and GoDaddy wants one of the sports world's biggest celebrities (also for obvious reasons). It leaves up-and-coming Bires out in the cold, but there's little anyone can do about it.
My suggestion: Support the drivers who aren't financially backed more than you ever have before. If you want their talent to win out, do what you can to make your voice heard.
Back to Danica for a second: An ARCA race is one thing, but isn't she going to be way over her head and potentially cause a huge wreck in the Nationwide race, affecting the championship battle on another front?
Yep, pretty much.
Danica Patrick survived and thrived in the messy ARCA Series race at Daytona on Saturday night, impressing some of her doubters in her stock-car debut.
Patrick finished sixth after edging motocross legend Ricky Carmichael at the line, and capped a night in which she fell as far back as 23rd before rallying.
She avoided several wrecks and, in her signature moment of the evening, did a half-spin before saving the car, driving through the grass and making it to pit road without hitting a thing.
"Shoot, to be honest, once I spun down the frontstraight, I took my hands off the wheel for a second and I was like, ‘I'm gonna get majorly collected right here,'" she said. "But there was no one there. Then [crew chief] Tony [Eury] Jr. was in my ear, like, ‘Get back in it!' So I got back in it."
The team was pleased with her run after the race, as JR Motorsports co-owner Rick Hendrick congratulated Patrick on the team radio by saying, "You drove the wheels off that thing, girl. We're proud of you."
Patrick's run was impressive in that she stayed out of trouble and made it to the finish; the top-10 was just a bonus. It could have been better, but she jumped out of line to see if she could make a late pass "just for the heck of it," she said.
She even experienced bump-drafting for the first time and said she felt what it was like to get hit.
"But even if I was [getting hit]? Who cares?" she said. "I learned what it feels like. I learned what it was like to hit people. I learned it was like to hit people from all directions.
"I can't wait to do it again."
Will "again" mean next Saturday night if she decides to participate in the Nationwide Series race, which would be her NASCAR debut?
"I don't know, we haven't made that decision yet," she said. "I have a lot to learn, so we'll have to decide by Monday."
Patrick's presence made the ARCA event perhaps the most high-profile race in series history. A massive group of media followed Patrick's every move and listened to her scanner chatter, in which she was schooled in racing basics like pit stops and caution procedures by Eury Jr.
But the other drivers seemed to welcome the presence of an athlete who transcends sports – her racy GoDaddy.com commercial may appear during the Super Bowl tomorrow.
"I'm glad she was here," race winner Bobby Gerhart said. "It brought some well-needed attention to this series."
Said driver Justin Marks, who finished 11th: "...From someone who just race with her, that girl can drive. And she isn't scared of shit. I was impressed."
Don't do it, Danica.
JR Motorsports announced Thursday that Danica Patrick will run 12 races this year, her first in NASCAR competition. But the team said she could potentially up that number to 13 if the ARCA series race at Daytona goes well enough for her to try the Nationwide Series event there a week later.
Deciding to run the Daytona Nationwide race - thereby booting full-time teammate Kelly Bires from the season opener - would be a huge mistake.
The team said owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. will run one of its two cars at Daytona because of a sponsor commitment, leaving only one for Patrick or Bires. JRM will give Patrick the option to move up her scheduled NASCAR debut (a week later in California) and drive at Daytona.
If she elected to do so, it would be an extraordinarily selfish decision. It would knock Bires out of the season points race before he ever got started, damage morale for team members who are in it for the long haul and serve to benefit only one person: Danica Patrick.
That's not the kind of entrance Danica wants to make in the sport where she is a newcomer and remains an outsider based on her full-time job in the Izod IndyCar Series.
Choosing to bump Bires from his regular gig - even for a week - could generate more bad publicity than Jay Leno replacing Conan O'Brien. That kind of me-first, slash-and-burn mentality won't get her very far in the NASCAR garage.
So don't do it, Danica. Make a smart entrance into the sport without alienating race fans who are just getting to know you.
Drive the ARCA race at Daytona and learn everything you can, then we'll see you in California.
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