NASCAR’s 2 female drivers not rivals – or friends

Johanna, meet Danica. Danica, Johanna.

Danica Patrick and 19-year-old rookie Johanna Long, NASCAR’s two

female drivers, compete on the race track in an otherwise

male-dominated sport. Someday they might even get acquainted.

”I haven’t really met her,” Long said Friday at Talladega

Superspeedway. ”We see each other around the driver

(introductions) and we see each other but we haven’t really

spoken.”

Patrick said she knew little about Long other than that ”she

has a lot of strong qualifying runs.”

”She’s a really young girl and she just needs to keep at it,”

said Patrick, who makes her Talladega debut in Saturday’s

Nationwide Series race.

Long fields plenty of questions about the more experienced

driver simply because of what they do share: gender. Patrick, who

turned 30 in March, raced in IndyCar and stars in commercials.

Long’s claim to fame might be winning the 2010 non-NASCAR Snowball

Derby in her hometown of Pensacola, Fla.

She gives a sheepish ”No” when asked if she considers Patrick

a rival.

Patrick, after all, is an IndyCar veteran who’s already an

established name. Long is still a teenager trying to steer toward a

sustained career, with the appropriate humility.

”I really don’t like comparing myself to anyone else,” Long

said. ”I’m just another driver out there in a 43-car field.

”I’m trying to build my fan base just like everybody

else.”

Patrick will start 17th in Saturday’s race, seven spots ahead of

Long. Because of a qualifying rainout, those slots were set by

owners points.

Patrick hasn’t done `Dega but she has raced four times at

Daytona International Speedway, recording a top-10 finish and twice

finishing among the top 15 while leading a total of 16 laps at the

other restrictor plate track.

She won the pole in this season’s opening Nationwide race in

Daytona, but was caught up in a first-lap wreck.

Patrick figures the even-broader track at Talladega will make

for plenty of excitement with some four- and even five-wide

racing.

”That’s probably going to make it even more exciting,” she

said. ”You’re going to see a lot more moving around even, if

that’s even possible coming from Daytona.”

Patrick was already enjoying the atmosphere of the weekend-long

party in Talladega’s famed infield, sporting a necklace of large,

multicolored beads in the media center.

”When I talked about coming to Talladega, 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,” Patrick said. ”The

atmosphere is something really unique. It’s definitely one of those

tracks that I was looking forward to coming to for more reasons

than racing. It’s going to be fun.

”I’ve already got my beads, so what next? More beads?”