Danica admits in NASCAR you need talent Danica Patrick says she's increasingly comfortable with her car and crew, and pleased with the reception she has received from NASCAR fans.
But as she prepares to visit Joliet this weekend for just the fifth NASCAR race of her career, the 28-year-old northwest Illinois native says the stock car learning curve remains steep.
"It is really challenging and hard," said Patrick, who races in the Nationwide 300-mile race 7 p.m. Friday at Chicagoland Speedway. "For me, I'm comfortable in the car, it's just that everything is so new that I don't know how to deal with every situation (yet)."
Patrick, a regular on the IndyCar circuit, had her best NASCAR race finish late last month at New Hampshire when she rebounded from an early crash to finish 30th.
And while she has been racing since age 12, joining NASCAR — even for an abbreviated schedule —has been something of a culture shock.
"Everything was different, (even) the language and how you talk about the car," said Patrick. "Everything is quite opposite.
Then there are the obvious visual and physical differences between the sleek, open-top Indy cars and the bulkier stock cars for NASCAR.
Stock cars weigh 3,400 pounds — almost twice as much as IndyCars. And while they have more features for maneuverability — like power steering — there's also frequent braking.
"In an IndyCar you just put your foot down, but in a stock car you're hitting the brake, getting off the brake, hitting the gas," Patrick said. "You're not maintaining top speed as much. You have to let up and brake a lot that you would never have to in an Indy car. It changes the whole dynamic of the car." [Editor's Note: In other words it takes more talent because you actually have to drive the car and use your talent. What a novel idea!]
Helping Patrick weather the transition is a veteran crew chief who previously worked with Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"(Crew chief) Tony Eury Jr., is obviously a big standout in the program (with) all of his knowledge," she said. "He stays really calm and knows what to do. To have that on my side at the point of my career with the NASCAR stuff is really lucky."
Patrick had driven exclusively on the IndyCar circuit until this year. She signed a new deal with Andretti Autosports late last year and will drive her No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet in 13 events in NASCAR's Nationwide Series along with some Indy Racing League races.
The 2005 IndyCar Rookie of the Year, Patrick has one IRL victory — the Indy Japan 300 in 2008 when she became the first woman ever to win an IndyCar race. She also finished third in the 2009 Indianapolis 500, and was fifth overall in points in the final IRL standings last year.
She will return to Chicagoland Speedway for a 300-mile race Aug. 28.
"I've always liked the track," she said. "I think it has produced a lot of good racing." Chicago Tribune