After all the hype, humility will be the lesson Danica Patrick learns at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday. After Danica teased the public with her stock car aspirations – although not as provocatively as her GoDaddy.com alter ego – the plans came together with JR Motorsports on Dec. 7. Tony Eury Jr. took the reins and set up an aggressive testing schedule at Daytona, Disney World and the Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., prior to Thursday’s first laps of practice.
Despite solid equipment, Patrick was slow to get up to speed at Daytona. But when it came time to put a lap down for qualifying, Patrick was 12th-fastest in time trials. Still, unlike the IndyCar fields in the low 20s, Patrick will compete against 43 racers on Saturday.
But she’s comfortable with her surroundings.
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“A lot of these drivers are new to me as I don’t know a lot of them,” Patrick said. “But just in the experience that I’ve had in practice and getting to know them a little bit, getting familiar with their driving and speed at least if I haven’t met them, there’s a lot of nice guys out there. It’s nice to be around some good drivers. Tony was pointing out, ‘he’s good, he’s good, he’s going to play good. Be careful here, be careful there,’ but as he said, ‘you’re in a good group.’
“That’s good. The last thing you want to do is be put into a situation where you got to watch on the start when you’ve got eight laps to go. I think I’m in a good spot. We’ll hit the gas and keep our foot on it as long as we can.”
Patrick admits that she’s “out to make friends out there unless someone gives me a reason not to like them.” Her greatest support will obviously come from Eury. He’s already provided Patrick with a crash course in stock cars over the last two months and last week ordered a simulation kit for his driver to log laps online to accelerate her learning curve. Patrick is aware that it will take time to master stock cars. “Tony Eury Jr. is a very good crew chief, he’s very talented,” Patrick said. “He knows what he’s doing. I tell him what the car is doing and he fixes it. We worked very hard on the car (Thursday). We actually tried quite a few things. We needed the time to improve the car and we did that and that’s been the case just about every place we’ve went.
“For me it’s a matter of learning from him and understanding the car. The difference between IndyCar and NASCAR is a lot of things are spoken in opposites, so that’s been a little bit confusing for me but I’m getting into the car setup part of it as much as I can. It’s hard to digest it all at once. Just like in IndyCar, it will take awhile.”
And it wasn’t until viewing race footage during the four rookie meetings that Patrick realized what “a crash fest” the Daytona ARCA race can be.
“I didn’t know that,” Patrick said. "Now I do, so I think that makes me realize I need to be smart out there.”
But Eury Jr. will be there to remind her. Although the practice was cut short because of rain, Eury believes Patrick is ready for the challenge. On Saturday, he’ll “walk out of the tunnel with a smile if she finishes in the top five” even though he would settle for a top-15 result.
“I know the hype,” Eury said. “But I have 15 races to teach her everything I know. And if she’s the first woman to win a race over here I will have had the opportunity to do something that no one else has done.”