Danica trying to figure out normal in stock cars

The difficult part for Danica Patrick is still not knowing for

sure how things are “supposed to feel” in a stock car and what is

normal on the track.

“I really don’t have any of those answers at this point,”

Patrick said Friday. “It’s only going to come from, in my

experience, really having something good to go, `Oh yes, I want

that again. I know I can achieve it.’ It just takes time.”

Patrick gets another chance this weekend at California, in what

originally was supposed to be her NASCAR Nationwide debut before

she raced at Daytona and got caught up in a 12-car accident just

past the halfway mark last Saturday. She went a week earlier than

planned after finishing sixth in the ARCA race at Daytona.

Her goals this Saturday are simple: finish laps – and the

race.

“Finishing is definitely always the goal,” she said. “I just

need laps. … I’m probably going to be more surprised how I’m

going to have to deal with the car sliding around for a majority of

the run, and I need that to be a normal expectation for me that I

deal with.”

Unlike Daytona, Patrick goes to the two-mile California

superspeedway already with some race experience on the large oval.

But that was five years ago in the IndyCar Series, and is really no

comparison to the way she will have to drive this time.

“It’s definitely a departure from being in an IndyCar here when

you’re glued to that white line,” she said. “You never came off

the white line any way, and you never lifted.”

Patrick spent much of her practice time Friday adjusting to

differences. She ran 16 laps in the opening session – more than any

other driver – and her best lap of 169.591 mph was 37th. She

improved to 27th in the second session with a lap of 171.310 mph

when she ran a field-high 35 laps.

“For me, really I don’t feel necessarily so bothered by tracks

as much as I do just getting comfortable with the car on the track.

That’s the most important thing for me,” she said. “I’ve driven

around here flat-out on the white line before, I have no problem

with that. But I need to feel the grip and I need to feel where the

car is, so that’s what we’re working on.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the co-owner of the JR Motorsports team that

is fielding cars for Patrick on a part-time basis in the Nationwide

Series, said Patrick “did as well as she could at Daytona under

the circumstances” and that the team plans to be patient with her

continued development.

“We have a lot of responsibility in giving her a good

opportunity and she has a lot of races to learn and understand

these cars,” Earnhardt said. “We are going to be quite patient

with her. She is a lot of fun to be around.”

After more than a dozen Sprint Cup drivers appeared in the media

room Friday, Patrick came in after her final Nationwide practice.

The room was more crowded than it had been all day, with more

cameras and more reporters.

Cup driver Tony Stewart said Sprint drivers don’t feel that too

much attention is paid to Patrick.

“Our opinion about her hasn’t changed. I still think she has an

extremely high amount of talent. I think that if the media will

give her enough room to learn and not bug the daylights out of her

where she can’t breath, I think she’ll be fine,” Stewart said.

“That opinion from last week to this week, it really hasn’t

changed.”

Patrick said other drivers have been “very very open” and

helpful but that it is still her responsibility to earn their

respect on the track.

“I haven’t really had enough racing out there to know whether

or not they’re playing nice and fair and whatever, and I don’t

even, to be honest, know. Is bumping wrong?” she said. “I think I

saw Jamie (McMurray) win the race last week and have people bump

him afterward. So I think it was some sort of a `good job.’ Is that

like a pat on the butt in football or something? I don’t know. …

I’m not sure, so I don’t think I know what’s normal yet.”

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