Danica Patrick Remembers Dan Wheldon In Return To Las Vegas

The typical NASCAR driver press conference begins with a moderator asking a question about the weekend, followed by questions from the media.

Danica Patrick's session with reporters on Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was different, though, and understandably so. Friday marked Patrick's first visit to LVMS since the death of former IndyCar colleague Dan Wheldon, who was killed in an October crash.

Patrick was in the race that day along with Wheldon, and so she asked to give an opening statement before taking questions.

"I think we just wanted to...lead it off and let you guys know that...obviously, the last time we were here was a big weekend and a sad weekend," Patrick said, trying to find the right words. "Thoughts are still with Susie (Wheldon) and the kids. There won't be a time when I come to Las Vegas that I won't think about Dan and think about the family. I hope that they're doing well."

The rest of the press conference had a somber tone and felt somewhat tense as reporters listened to Patrick describe her emotions upon returning to the track.

"Our job is to drive the race car, and we need to be able to do that with our whole heart and mind," she said. "So I went out there (in practice) and drove just like any other day. But I think it's in the moments when you don't have a singular focus...that it gets to you."

Patrick said walking into the media center or going into the garage and seeing where she pitted that weekend triggered memories of what happened. The memories don't completely go away while on the track, she said, but it helps to concentrate on driving.

"Especially when you're trying to get the car to its very limit, you need to be able to focus on that one thing," she said. "The thoughts outside of the car and being in the (track's) surroundings is when you remember so much."

Patrick said the cause of the IndyCar accident – open-wheel cars making contact and climbing over one another – is unlikely to happen in NASCAR, and she finds "some peace in that."

But when she walks the Strip and remembers driving her IndyCar there in a parade last October, or sees a restaurant where she ate that weekend, the memories return.

"It will never completely escape," she said. "That's what tragedy will do to you."

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