Don’t look for Danica Patrick to be making excuses.
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Instead, the NASCAR Nationwide Series and IndyCar Series star frankly assesses her season and continues her commitment to improve.
She speaks openly of setbacks the 2010 season has brought and how she is working to manage those in the future. And she shows that she sports no ego as she openly discusses her need for some help in the series.
Meanwhile, she continues to take on one of the toughest assignments in motorsports — driving a highly-engineered open-wheel car some weeks and a heavier, more driver-oriented Nationwide Series cars on others. Sometimes, it’s clearly been tough on the popular driver.
While some might grab the chance to blame racing in a pair of series as a problem this season, Patrick embraces her dual role while accepting any limitations it might present. While some might cling to a limited stock-car experience as a reason for their current lack of results, Patrick finds the positives of some of her races and outlines the increments she’s gained this year.
She’s open to input, welcomes insight and continues to try to get a handle on these stock cars.
Still, the magnitude of Patrick’s quest this season cannot be underestimated.
She’s competed full time in the IndyCar Series, where she just finished second in the season finale, while also racing a limited schedule in the Nationwide ranks for the first time.
She’s tried to learn the Nationwide cars in a year when the sport is introducing a new car in a handful of races and in spurts as she races a few, then returns to focus on Indy cars, then heads back to Nationwide. Now, she is preparing to make her eighth career start in the series in what is the 30th race of the season.
Patrick compares it to her IndyCar career and her transition to driving on road courses against some of the sport’s best.
"To expect that my fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth race in a Nationwide car is going to be the same as everybody else’s at that point in the year, it isn’t fair and I can’t hold myself to that standard either," Patrick said.
Still, she has found some support throughout the garage. To that end, Patrick says she continues to solicit input from veteran competitors — and could be getting some additional input from Mark Martin.
"I think everybody has been tremendously understanding," Patrick said. "Everybody’s been very, very patient and I appreciate that. I’m looking for the same things that everybody else is looking (for in) some improvement in performance and some more consistency and speed out here in the last six races."
Patrick says a lot could be gained by having a veteran help her adjust to the car.
"It would be nice if somebody could help me, even if it becomes, whoever it is, I would take any help." Patrick said. "You need somebody to put you in the car and say this is the setup, and go drive it after they’ve driven it."
Sometimes, she just needs some encouragement or input. She’s talking with Cup drivers and veterans as much as possible, but working around busy schedules. Still, she clearly enjoys learning, as she did from Martin when he talked with her and the team at Dover recently. Martin knows what young drivers face as he has worked with them in the past — and Patrick clearly gained a boost from his taking some time to talk with her for that race.
"She’s way better than she’s shown so far," he said. "It’s not been fair what she’s been up against. The rest of these dudes that come out here have major background in stock cars. Her having zero in stock cars has really been tough."
"He believes I can do more and that’s nice to know and nice to see somebody like that think that," Patrick said.
She’s hoping experienced drivers in the sport will continue to give her advice from time to time as she works to figure out the cars.
It’s difficult to tell just how much of an impact it could have on Patrick if she did have someone letting her know just what she’s supposed to feel in the car. She will have that soon, though. Next season, she’ll have a steady Nationwide teammate in Aric Almirola — and that could have a major impact. This season, Patrick has had a series of teammates in the series as JR Motorsports worked to build for next season.
That could be an asset as well.
"It’s one thing to say drive this line, do that, but when you don’t have the car maybe that might do that, you can’t do that; it’s all just words," she said. "It would be nice for someone to throw me in the car after they’ve driven it so I get a real feel. But, we’re just moving forward and even if nobody’s there to help it, we’ll continue to get better still."
Working with Almirola, who is currently second in the Camping World Truck Series standings and has experience in the Cup cars already, can boost the entire organization’s effort.
"I think it will be really nice for me to have some consistency with someone," Patrick said. "I know even in the little bit that I had with Kelly Bires at the beginning of the year, it was really nice. It was nice to be able to have someone that — Kelly, in my very first test, jumped in the car, set my car up for me then let me drive it and that was a great test day — so to be able to rely on some of that in a teammate, someone that is vested and has time and able to focus, someone that I can just stop by (and talk to)."
Meanwhile, Patrick is focusing on finishing the season on a strong note – and taking heart in some of the stronger runs she has enjoyed this season. While she has a top finish of 24th, she has run better than that at times and could have finished well in a couple of races that ended up resulting in crashes.
As she enters the final six races of the season, Patrick is finding optimism in those efforts.
"It might not seem so bad if I’d actually finished like Daytona and Vegas, because I think those would have been decent results, but it was a crash and that’s what happens in these cars," Patrick said. "There’s a lot of people out there and someone gets sideways and tire smoke starts flying, it’s difficult to see through. Unfortunately you get collected in accidents. I think that it’s been a little challenging … I think that it’s been overlooked, but it’s hard when you don’t have the results to just say, but I think there has definitely been progression, stuff that’s not always obvious to the naked eye of fans looking.
"But yeah, I know we’re all looking to get some better actual finishes; it’s always nice."