Sprint Cup rookie looks to earn trust with speed at Talladega
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Danica Patrick is convinced a good weekend at Talladega Superspeedway has as much to do with attitude as aptitude. And she's shown plenty of both when it comes to NASCAR's restrictor plate tracks.
In what's been every bit the challenging learning curve the former IndyCar star expected in her Sprint Cup rookie season, the big tracks such as Talladega and Daytona have not only been bright spots for her but she is a reasonable favorite in Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 500.
"Having a good attitude helps," said Patrick, whose team press release declares this weekend's visit to NASCAR's biggest track: "2.66 Miles of Fun."
"And IndyCar racing on mile-and-a-halfs (ovals) was much like this kind of racing. Flat-out, close quarters and just trying to do whatever it took to keep the momentum up. I feel like visually it's very familiar racing for me."
After becoming the first woman in history to win the Daytona 500 pole position in February, Patrick backed up her qualifying laps with a season-best eighth place finish in the sport's most famous race -- leading five laps and running among the top-five in the waning laps.
Another of her top-15 efforts came at Daytona in July, and Patrick is optimistic about her chances on the Talladega high banks come Sunday. And that’s not necessarily the prevailing attitude from the rest of her competitors, who dread the tight and unpredictable pack racing that characterizes this event.
“The reason they don’t look forward to it is exactly why I do, because someone like me has more of a shot there,’’ said Patrick, who will start 23rd Sunday in the No. 10 GoDaddy Breast Cancer Awareness Chevy.
“With superspeedways, it’s a toss-up what’s going to happen. So that’s why it’s fun for me because somebody like me has a chance. On top of that Stewart-Haas superspeedway cars are really good.’’
She is also realistic about what it takes to make friends at restrictor-plate venues Daytona and Talladega, where having a reliable drafting partner can be the difference between a shot at the win and being competitively ostracized.
“Everybody wants to be your friend when you are fast, so the best thing I can do is go be fast,’’ said Patrick, who acknowledges her showings at Daytona and Talladega have helped her earn trust in that regard.
Her showings on the big tracks have been highlights in a season of hard knocks when results (one top-10) and standings (28th place) don’t necessarily reflect her progress. Or potential.
While announcing that Aspen Dental as a new primary sponsor for two 2014 races, Patrick told reporters Friday she was satisfied with her effort.
“I’m right where I need to be, I’m right where I was going to be,’’ Patrick said. “All I know is that I’ve done everything I can to prepare for the year, to learn throughout the year and that is what’s going to lead into next year.
“I don’t think that you can ever plan how it’s going to go or give yourself a grade because everybody learns at a different rate. There are times that I probably was unexpectedly better than they thought and worse than they thought. It’s just my own personal progression and everyone’s is different.
“I know I feel very comfortable and confident on these (restrictor plate) tracks. … What I would like is for having some good races to not be a surprise.’’