Danica seeks respect in NASCAR

Come in like a wrecking ball and take out half the field on the

first lap, and Danica Patrick’s stock car racing experiment will

screech to a halt.

Drive defensively and just try to stay out of the way, and

she’ll be dismissed as a pushover.

Despite her standing as an IndyCar star and possibly the most

successful female race car driver ever, Danica Patrick knows she

must make a good first impression in NASCAR. Still, she made it

clear during Thursday’s Daytona 500 media day that she doesn’t plan

on being pushed around in the process.

“If somebody does something to me that I don’t like, you have

to expect that you get something in return,” Patrick said. “And I

have fenders now, so that’s pretty exciting.”

After years of speculation about her potential move from IndyCar

to NASCAR, Patrick is dipping her toe in stock cars while

continuing to race in IndyCar this season.

She isn’t trying to qualify for the Daytona 500 this year;

she’ll start smaller, making her debut in Saturday’s ARCA race at

Daytona International Speedway.

ARCA is a lesser-known series that uses similar cars to NASCAR,

and the annual ARCA race at Daytona is known for its spectacular

and frequent crashes – something Patrick apparently just found out

about.

“I recently heard that, that it’s a crashfest,” Patrick said,

laughing. “And I didn’t know that. But, OK, now I do. I think that

makes me just realize that I need to be smart out there.”

Hey, at least they told her before the green flag fell.

And there certainly will be more surprises once Patrick hits the

track.

Patrick is encouraged by her initial experiences in stock cars;

she did an ARCA test at Daytona in December and recently practiced

pit stops with her crew in Charlotte. Now she’s paying attention to

the details, trying to figure out how to keep her car under

NASCAR’s pit road speed limit; in IndyCar, she said, you just press

a button.

Above all, she’s being careful not to set unrealistic

expectations.

“I think at the end of the day, it’d be nice to have a good

result,” Patrick said. “But it’s going to probably be more off

the feeling that I have and how little mistakes that I made and how

comfortable with the different situations.”

After Saturday’s race, Patrick and her team – which is co-owned

by Dale Earnhardt Jr. – must decide whether Patrick will run the

Nationwide series race at Daytona next Saturday. Patrick expects a

decision by Monday, and it doesn’t sound like an automatic yes.

“You know, it’s been recommended that it’s not the best idea to

start there,” Patrick said. “And I’m not going to ignore the

people that have given me advice.”

Fellow drivers seem to be viewing Patrick’s arrival with an open

mind.

Of the handful of female drivers who have tried to make it big

in racing, Jeff Burton said Patrick has the most potential.

“Her ability to be successful or not successful doesn’t depend

on her being a ‘her,”’ Burton said. “There is no reason that a

women cannot be successful in this sport. There is no reason in the

world. (In) my eyes, she has brought the most talent to the table

so far.”

Former driver Kyle Petty said Patrick is doing the right thing

by announcing her refusal to back down on the track, likening

NASCAR to a group of schoolkids playing in a sandbox.

“She’s got her mind screwed on straight,” Petty said. “You

have to establish your piece of the sandbox when you go play in the

sandbox. And you can’t just walk into a new sandbox and start

knocking people out of their place. You can’t be overly aggressive,

but you can’t let them say, ‘Yeah, we’re not going to give you any

of the sandbox.”’

Patrick embraces the aggressive streak in her personality, one

that occasionally led to confrontations during her rise to

prominence in IndyCar. She’s also working on being more

diplomatic.

In that spirit, she’ll show respect to all of her new fellow

stock car drivers on the track – unless they give her a reason not

to.

“You walk this very fine line of being kind of more of a wimp

out there, and taking their (garbage) and not doing anything about

it, and also being too overly aggressive and kind of making

yourself look silly by it, too,” Patrick said. “You know, I had

to do it in IndyCar and I would like to think that I’ve earned all

their respect out there. And it’s going to come with racing with

some of these guys.”