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Patrick driving in familiar territory at Road America

June 23, 2012, Jill Erwin, NASCAR.com



Patrick driving in familiar territory at Road America
ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. -- Ex-IndyCar driver has seen plenty of road courses and is racing in her home state

It's not often in Danica Patrick's first full Nationwide Series season that she feels like she has a leg up on her competition.

She's constantly playing catch-up to those around her, and she's still learning the terminology.

But set her loose on a road course, especially one she's seen before, and everything changes. That's what will happen when she starts the Sargento 200 on Saturday at Road America.

"Sometimes it helps me to be able to talk to them and say, 'Yeah, that's exactly ... that's what I'm talking about. That's what it is.' He can put it a little more simply than I do."

--DANICA PATRICK on Ron Fellows

"My comfort level is not super high because I haven't done much of it in a stock car," Patrick said of making the right turns. "But as far as coming to a road course, I suppose the tables have turned a little bit. ... I kind of get the feeling from drivers who came up through the stock car ranks that they don't always love coming to road courses."

Not that Patrick always has been the biggest supporter of road racing. She admitted that her time in the IndyCar Series probably poisoned her against road courses, just from the sheer number.

Patrick has seen the 4.048-mile, 14-turn course before, but it was long ago. In 2003, Patrick was running in the Atlantic Championship, a development series for open-wheel racers.

She remembers more than she expected.

"Oddly enough, this is one of those tracks I pretty vividly remember," Patrick said. "Probably because it has so many hills and it's a memorable track. It's definitely unique from a road course perspective, so I remember most all about it."

The track isn't the only thing familiar to Patrick during the visit. She was born in Wisconsin, more than a two-hour drive from the track, and will have quite the cheering section Saturday.

"I just feel like I see a lot of familiar faces when I come up here, people who have been around racing for a long time, especially some of my dad's friends," Patrick said. "Folks show up, and they're people I remember from my childhood and longtime friends of my family. My parents and a bunch of other people have got motorhomes this weekend, and they're cooking out and stopping by for a beer after the race. That's the plan. It just has a comfortable feeling, I think, being here."

Patrick didn't race here last year -- her only road course race in Nationwide was in 2011 at Montreal -- but she watched last year's race on TV and rewatched it to prepare for this weekend. Ron Fellows, a renowned road course racer, is a teammate this week, and she's been leaning on him to figure out what her car needs.

"Sometimes I have the same feelings, but I don't articulate it in the way that guys like that do," Patrick said. "Sometimes it helps me to be able to talk to them and say, 'Yeah, that's exactly ... that's what I'm talking about. That's what it is.' He can put it a little more simply than I do."

This is the 14th race of the season for Nationwide, and with the start, Patrick will have run more races this season than she has in either of her other seasons. That experience of running week in, week out has paid off, she said.

Patrick finished 18th last weekend at Michigan and said it was "a little disappointing" overall, but the rhythm and momentum she's gaining from being in the car regularly instead of sporadically is making a difference.

"Sometimes to take it to the next level, you're going to make some mistakes," she said. "It's trying to find that new limit, and I feel like that happened a couple of times last weekend. Restarts have gotten much better, minus last weekend, and I just had a much, much better pace in practice and through the weekend."

So now she gets to try to apply all that she's learned to the type of track she enjoys and see if she can get that breakout performance she's been striving for all year.

But no matter what happens, the learning curve continues.

"For me, I'm just trying to learn how these stock cars run on road courses," Patrick said. "Montreal, I learned quite a bit, but I'm going to keep on learning and learn how the feelings can translate into making the car better, what you deal with and what you don't need to deal with. I'm looking forward to being here again. This is a fun, educated fan base and they love their road racing, so I'm looking forward to getting out there."