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Danica Patrick faces big test at Daytona

Danica Patrick is heading into one of the biggest weekends of her career to date: the start of her full-time Nationwide Series, her first Cup race - and her first Daytona 500.
There's been no question about who the media is most interested in at Daytona in the last few days: while long time Cup drivers have been able to sit around in the media area without being troubled by a single questioner, Danica Patrick isn't able to go anywhere without being surrounded by a rugby scrum of reporters.

"The week started off with me doing about 2 and a half hours of interviews. That's not a small day," she said. Of course, she's used to that sort of attention thanks to all her years being the centre of attention for the press going into the Indianapolis 500. Patrick described Daytona as a lot easier to drive than Indianapolis: "Indianapolis is something that is a little more difficult," she agreed.

In fact as far as Patrick is concerned, the driving is the easy part of her first stab at the 2012 Daytona Speedweeks: "I pretty much just had to hit my shifts," she said of her practice and qualifying runs over the weekend. "As a driver, you try to go through the gears smooth and be smooth on the track. Beyond that, there isn't a lot more that we can do."

She's been helped by a complicated deal over owner points between Stewart-Haas Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing that gives her a guaranteed starting grid position for the Daytona 500 which has definitely taken the pressure off her driving, although not not the press attention. "As far as nerves go, it was less nerve wracking, but there was no lack of photographers and cameras."

Being less nerve wracking didn't equate to no nerves at all for the former IndyCar driver, however.

"To say that I wasn't nervous at all is a lie," she admitted. "Of course I was a little bit. I want to do a good job, I want to have a nice pretty smooth line out there and I want to go through the shifts nicely."

But then she hasn't experienced the reality of pack-racing close up in a high-profile Cup race, and that might come as something of a shock to the former open-wheel racer.

"I'm not completely unfamiliar with the pack running," she pointed out. "The first year here was some pack, and even last year in the first race of the year in Nationwide, we did some pack running. It was interesting to watch how you can be very organised in a single file line. You can pull away. It was interesting to see how the tandem will work in the end."

Thursday will be the key moment for her, when she'll compete in the Gatorade Duel that will set her starting position for Sunday's Daytona 500 event. Knowing who she can work with out on the track will be key to her campaign.

"It's going be about getting a rapport with some of the drivers I haven't raced with yet, getting a feel for how the pack running is going to go," she concurred. She's also been studying video of previous races - including Saturday's Budweiser Shootout, in which she did not compete but learned a lot from watching all the same. "I'll be studying that last pass at the end with Tony and Kyle to see when the perfect time is to do that!" she said.




Related Pictures

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Danica Patrick unveils her #10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for the 2012 season with team owner Tony Stewart following practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 4 in Fort Worth, Texas. [Picture Credit: NASCAR Media]
Tony Stewart with Danica Patrick at a press conference at Daytona International Speedway. [Photo credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fourth position, Saturday June 27, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position, Saturday June 27, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet, qualifies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 27, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet, poses with Miss Coors Light Amanda Mertz and the Coors Light Pole Award decal after qualifying for pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 27, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 27, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 26, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the #9 Jacob Companies Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 26, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 26, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Panasonic Chevrolet SS, qualifies for sixth position, Friday, June 12, 2015, for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. Gordon is tenth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, qualifies for the second position, Friday, June 12, 2015, for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. Harvick will be joined on the front row by Pole winner Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS. Harvick leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Great Clips Chevrolet, wins the pole during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 12, 2015 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Door/Menards Toyota, climbs into his truck on pit road during NTT DATA qualifying for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 5, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta/Penn State Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fourth position, Friday, June 5, 2015, for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Gordon is ninth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, qualifies for third position, Friday, June 5, 2015, for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Truex, Jr. is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, left, poses with Miss Coors Light Amanda Mertz and the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta `We Paint Winners` 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 5, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

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