Patrick learning NASCAR results won’t come easily

One of the toughest lessons Danica Patrick has learned after two

NASCAR races is that the desired results won’t come easy – or

soon.

“I’m used to running up front. It’s shocking when you go that

far back,” Patrick said after finishing 31st in the Nationwide

race at California. “I have to disconnect from the results for

quite some time. They’re probably not going to be what I’m used

to.”

While Patrick reached a goal by finishing her second Nationwide

race and gaining valuable stock car experience, the IndyCar Series

star was three laps behind winner Kyle Busch and ahead of only six

other cars still running at the end Saturday.

A week earlier in her much-anticipated debut at Daytona, she got

caught up in a 12-car crash just past the midway point and was

35th.

“It’s an adjustment, it’s like starting from zero again,”

Patrick said.

Consider that it is almost impossible for Patrick to finish as

far back in the IndyCar Series, which last season had only one

event with a full 33-car field – its showcase Indianapolis 500.

Patrick finished third in that race and has been outside the top 10

only once (22nd) in five races there. No other Indy race had more

than 24 cars entered a year ago.

Patrick has finished in the top 10 in 46 of her 81 career

open-wheel races.

But in stock cars, she is still trying to figure out what she is

supposed to feel on the track and how to make the car better.

“When it’s good I can drive it. But I don’t know what it takes

to make a good car at this point, I don’t know what to ask Tony

(Eury Jr., the crew chief) to do to fix the car,” Patrick said.

“That’s just going to take experience.”

Patrick will make it three Nationwide races in a row Saturday in

Las Vegas, but then goes back to the IndyCar Series and focusing on

her open-wheel ride for four months. She will return to the NASCAR

circuit at New Hampshire on June 26, the first of 10 more races

over the last five months of the Nationwide Series while also

running the rest of the IRL schedule.

After starting 36th at California, Patrick quickly dropped to

the back of the field and was passed by leader Joey Logano within

18 laps. She was penalized twice for speeding on pit row – to be

fair, so was Carl Edwards, who finished fourth in the race.

As the race progressed, though, Patrick’s lap times improved and

she passed some cars at the back of the field.

“Everybody just has to give her time,” Eury said. “She’s a

great race car driver and we picked her for a reason. … She’s

going to make it. It just takes time.”

Still, Patrick was clearly frustrated after the race. She

quickly walked away from the media waiting for her when she got out

of the car and retreated to the team’s hauler for a lengthy

debriefing with Eury before talking.

“She doesn’t like finishing where she did. She wants to run up

front. She feels she should be better than what she is right now,”

Eury said. “But you have to love the competitive nature of

her.”

On the slick two-mile California superspeedway, Patrick

admittedly struggled early but said she felt she got into a rhythm

and learned a few things over the course of a trying 298 miles and

being on the track the entire race.

“I got up top and ran up there, I ran on the bottom, I made it

work when it was pushing, I made it work when it was loose,” she

said. “I learned what happens with the track from the beginning to

the end of the a race. … I learned what it feels like and what

lane it needs by whether it’s pushing or whether it’s loose …

just more miles under my belt.”