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Living it up: Patrick not shying away from full 'Dega experience

May 04, 2012, Viv Bernstein, Special to NASCAR.COM,

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Patrick not shying away from the full Talladega experience in her first visit to track

Danica Patrick proudly displayed a string of large beads hanging around her neck on Friday, traditionally a bawdy badge of honor for women who bare certain body parts for men at Talladega Superspeedway.

Asked how she acquired those beads, Patrick said, slyly, "Isn't that obvious?"

"When I talked about coming to Talladega it was ... it's just as much of an excitement level for me to see the fans and get a feel for the atmosphere as it is for driving the car."


Yes, Patrick is already embracing the aura of Talladega. And she's also embracing the track. Patrick was 12th in practice on Friday, although she will start 17th for Saturday's Aaron's 312 with the grid set by points when rain Thursday altered Friday's schedule and qualifying was eliminated.

Patrick also posted the second-best 10-lap average in Friday's practice at 184.619 mph, just behind her bump-draft partner, Dale Earnhardt Jr. He led the 10-lap chart at 185.011.

It was just another sign Patrick is getting up to speed in her first full season in NASCAR.

"To be honest, I actually felt pretty good that Junior was wanting to know when I was coming back out of the garage and that he wanted to run and bump-draft with me at the beginning,'' Patrick said. "That was kind of a good feeling for me. I feel like we haven't really made big efforts to try and find each other. So if we're together, we do it. But the fact that he asked if I was coming back out was a nice feeling. But I'm feeling more and more comfortable all the time."

Particularly at the longer, faster tracks on the circuit. That's still her comfort zone after years in the IndyCar Series.

"Do I like Daytona and Talladega type of racing? I really do,'' she said. "It reminds me a lot of IndyCar racing because you're flat out, looking for air, you're just trying to stay with the pack, you're trying to weave your way through it. In IndyCar, it's a high-speed chess match. I'm used to it, I like it, it's not about the speed, it's just about the style. For me, though, outside of that, the mile-and-a-halfs are probably my favorite just because I think more happens. It's a little more in your control.''

Unlike Daytona. Patrick was collected in wrecks in all three races at Daytona in February: the Gatorade twin qualifying race, the Nationwide Series event and the Daytona 500. It was not the Sprint Cup debut she imagined, but

Patrick insists she is not dwelling on those races. With her first superspeedway race since Daytona set for Saturday, followed by the second Cup race of her career next week at Darlington, Patrick knows she has to put that past behind her.

"For me, it's not about wrapping my head around what happened in the past,'' she said. "It's about what happens next and how am I gonna be, what did I learn and move on. It's really easy with this schedule to dwell on things and let one weekend affect the next, and affect the next, so the hurdle is, for me, especially because I get so wrapped up in the results, is to disconnect from what just happened and move on and look at it as a positive that you get another week. You get a race the next weekend to go and make it right if you didn't feel like it was right the previous one. So I don't feel like I have to do anything. My goal is just to run competitively and see what happens."

In that regard, Patrick wasn't particularly pleased with last week's result, a 21st-place finish in the Nationwide race at Richmond. Among those who finished ahead of her was Johanna Long, another Nationwide Series rookie who inevitably is compared to Patrick because of their gender. Long finished 20th at Richmond.

Asked about fans who dislike Patrick gravitating to her, Long said, "I'm trying to grow my fan base just as everyone is out there, so I guess it's a good thing."

But Long didn't show up for her press conference wearing a big strand of beads. And that's what continues to set Patrick apart from other women in the sport. She plays up her gender, just as she did on Friday.

"Beads on," she said. "Beads up front. This is what makes Talladega special. And makes it exciting. When I talked about coming to Talladega it was ... it's just as much of an excitement level for me to see the fans and get a feel for the atmosphere as it is for driving the car. Driving around Talladega is much like Daytona so I felt something similar at least from what I expect it to be like, anyway. But the atmosphere is something really unique. So it's definitely one of those tracks that I was looking forward to coming to for more reasons than just racing. I think that it's going to be fun. Like I said, I've already got my beads, so what next? More beads?"