News & Media

Few nerves for Patrick in Cup qualifying debut

February 20, 2012, David Caraviello,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Even though she had a guaranteed starting berth, even though hers would be the only car out on the race track, Danica Patrick still felt nervous prior to her first Sprint Cup qualifying session.

A little, at least.

"It's a little less nerve-wracking, because there's a little less to worry about as a driver. But to say I wasn't nervous at all is a lie," Patrick said Sunday during front-row qualifying for the Daytona 500. "Of course I was, a little bit. I want to do a good job, and I want to have a pretty smooth line out there, and I want to go through the shifts nicely. As far as nerves go, it was less nerve-wracking. There was no lack of photographers and cameras, though."

Certainly not, as evidenced by the horde shadowing Patrick's every move. And yet, Sunday didn't reveal much -- Patrick's car placed 29th among the 49 vehicles attempting to qualify for the Great American Race, and her starting position for the Daytona 500 won't be determined until Thursday's 150-mile qualifying races. That will be a rather notable landmark for Patrick, who didn't compete in Saturday's sometimes-hairy Budweiser Shootout, and is yet to get her first taste of this resurrected form of pack drafting on the 2.5-mile facility.

"Big time," she said, when asked how important Thursday will be in preparing her for the big show. "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. I'm not completely unfamiliar with the pack running -- 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. ... Trust me, I'll be studying that last pass at the end with Tony [Stewart] and Kyle [Busch] to see when the perfect time is to do that."

Although Patrick has never before started a Sprint Cup event, she has a guaranteed spot in the Daytona 500 thanks to a deal between Stewart-Haas Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing. That partnership shifted the 2011 points of TBR's No. 36 car, which finished inside the top 35, to her No. 10. She'll compete Thursday and start 17th in the first 150-mile qualifier.

Patrick said she watched some videos of previous qualifying efforts at Daytona, and that research taught her to turn down onto the banking quicker than she did during practice. She said Daytona's recent repaving job made her qualifying lap Sunday fairly straightforward, with little she could do other than come up smoothly through the gears. It was a much different experience than her efforts to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, which uses a four-lap average to determine starting spots, something that for Patrick grew more mentally taxing and pressure-packed with each passing season.

Not that Daytona is completely a breeze by comparison. "Nothing is anti-climatic at Daytona," she said. "The week started off with me doing about two and half hours of interviewing to start off the day on Thursday. That's not a small day. There's a lot of media going around with the event, and I like the layout, the format of the week. It's test, qualify, test, race. That's nice. It reminds me of how Indy used to be before they shortened up the month."

The Daytona 500 is part of a busy Speedweeks for Patrick, who is also preparing for the opener to her first full-time Nationwide Series campaign. She's enjoyed good runs on the big track before, including a sixth-place finish in an ARCA race two years ago that was her stock-car debut, and a 10th-place effort in the facility's Nationwide event last July. Now, though, she's preparing for her initial foray into Sprint Cup pack racing -- and that's where the real nerves come in.

"I think if anything, I'm probably more nervous now because it's going to be time to get running with everybody else," she said. "The running so far has been the easy part."