She’s done what she was told since winning the pole position for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (Noon ET on FOX). She took it easy in the Budweiser Duel on Thursday. She skipped the opening practice on Friday. Then she worked with Hendrick Motorsports drivers and Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Tony Stewart in the afternoon session — all cars with Hendrick motors.
Crew chief Tony Gibson made some adjustments to the car, making it more comfortable for Patrick and, she says, her more confident.
Now, she’s ready to stop being cautious and start seeing what she can make of her front-row start.
She’s ready to be through being patient and waiting to test things out.
"I finally said in the hauler after we were done ‘We are definitely, definitely, definitely starting on the front row for the 500 now because we are done,’” she said Friday.
And fired up to go.
Crew chief Tony Gibson has no shortage of confidence in Patrick’s ability to win on Sunday.
He seems to admire the patience she has shown this week as she waited for her moment. Now she is free to drive the way she wants.
“I know we’ve been holding her back,” he said. “We haven’t been letting her race, and I know that is frustrating to try to protect your race car so you can lead the field down. But, we are going to cut her lose on Sunday. I told her she can treat it like a video game. If you feel like you want to pull out and pass, go for it."
So what does she think she can achieve once the racing starts? Patrick may be in her first full season of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. She may be facing additional pressure based on her starting position and running for the Rookie of the Year.
But after practicing in her car on Friday, Patrick and her team are confident heading into the race.
As to Patrick, she’s trying to make sure that she doesn’t get too caught up in being careful and focuses on making things happen.
“I was saying earlier that I think one of the things that I have worried a little bit too much about on these speedways is being really fair and caring about every single driver out there and trying to show them I’m loyal being behind them or things like that,” she said. “What you end up noticing with a lot of guys that are at the front is they go. When other drivers see someone that wants to go they want to go, too, and they will go with them.
“I think I just need to be a little bit more aggressive from that standpoint and stop worrying so much about being in line and being loyal and worry more about getting to the front if I’m not there for some reason. I guess I’m concerned that I will pull out and I will just keep shuffling to the back because nobody will go with me I guess that would be the big concern for Sunday. There is nothing you can do about that you’ve just got to try.”
Gibson is much less cautious in his stance on Patrick’s potential in the race.
“I have 100 percent confidence in her skills and her ability,” he said. “I’ve seen it just in the two races we did last year. … She’s got the talent and she’s got the ability and she’s already proven in the Nationwide Series, from what I’ve seen, on the speedway stuff she definitely gets the respect and people know she’s fast. She can draft. She knows how the air works. She gets a lot of that from IndyCar.
“So I have 100 percent confidence that she can win the Daytona 500.”