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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)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finished in third place, Sunday, May 24, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Cheerios Chevrolet SS, qualifies for eleventh position, Thursday, May 21, 2015, for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. Dillon is 25th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. All 43 drivers will be participating in
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser PrecisionChevrolet SS, qualifies for tenth position, Thursday, May 21, 2015, for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. Truex, Jr. is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. All 43 drivers will be participating in
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS, qualifies for ninth position, Thursday, May 21, 2015, for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. Larson is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. All 43 drivers will be participating in
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, qualifies for eighth position, Thursday, May 21, 2015, for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. Harvick leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. All 43 drivers will be participating in
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 21, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.CPL Steven R. Koch, US Army, is honored on the car as part of the 600 Miles of Remembrance program. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, stands on the grid prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 21, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, poses with Miss Coors Light Amanda Mertz after qualifying for pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 21, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Paul Menard, driver of the #27 Serta/Menards Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Showdown at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 15, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Mobil 1/Aspen Dental Chevrolet SS, races in the NASCAR Sprint Showdown Friday, May 15, 2015 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina.  Patrick won the Sprint Fan Vote, earning a spot in the Sprint All-Star Race Saturday night. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Mobil 1/Aspen Dental Chevrolet SS, races in the NASCAR Sprint Showdown Friday, May 15, 2015 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina.  Patrick won the Sprint Fan Vote, earning a spot in the Sprint All-Star Race Saturday night. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Mobil 1/Aspen Dental Chevrolet SS, wins the Sprint Fan Vote Friday, May 15, 2015, earning a spot in the Sprint All-Star Race Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Mobil 1/Aspen Dental Chevrolet SS, wins the Sprint Fan Vote Friday, May 15, 2015, earning a spot in the Sprint All-Star Race Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
(L-R) Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Mobil 1/Aspen Dental Chevrolet, Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 Cherry 5-Hour Energy/Special Operations Warrior Foundation Toyota, and Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 Ortho Ford, talk on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Showdown at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 15, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo Credit: (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
First Round winner Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 Ortho Ford, Sprint Fan Vote winner Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Mobil 1/Aspen Dental Chevrolet, and Second Round winner Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 Cherry 5-Hour Energy/Special Operations Warrior Foundation Toyota, pose in Victory lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Showdown at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 15, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo Credit: Photo by Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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