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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 Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, poses with the trophy in Victory Lane with wife Samantha and son Brexton Locke after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, places the winner`s decal in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana (Photo Credit: Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, celebrates with the chequered flag after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, celebrates by kissing the bricks after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS, stops in his pit on his way to a ninth place finish Sunday, July 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, races to an eighth place finish with third place finisher Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS Sunday, July 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, finishes in fourth place Sunday, July 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS, races to a third place finish Sunday, July 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
A detailed view of the Brickyard 400 trophy prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo Credit: Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #19 Stanley Toyota, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, take the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 25, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR XFINITY Series Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 25, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

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