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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)
Brian Scott, driver of the #2 Shore Lodge Chevrolet, leads Ryan Blaney, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, during the NASCAR Nationwide Series EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, drive driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning during the NASCAR Nationwide Series EnjoyIllinios.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet, wins the EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Cars race after a restart lead by Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet (L), Ryan Blaney, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Cartwheel by Target Chevrolet (R) during the EnjoyIllinois.com 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sta-Green 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sta-Green 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sta-Green 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sta-Green 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies fifth Friday, July 11, 2014 for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, qualifies fourth Friday, July 11, 2014 for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies second Friday, July 11, 2014 for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies second Friday, July 11, 2014 for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
 
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies second Friday, July 11, 2014 for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
 
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, qualifies fourth Friday, July 11, 2014 for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
 
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies fifth Friday, July 11, 2014 for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, right, poses with Miss Coors Light Rachel Rupert and the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 11, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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