Danica Patrick gets taste of NASCAR at Daytona


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Once IndyCar star Danica Patrick figured out how to get in and out of the stock car, the rest of her testing session at Daytona International Speedway went without any problems.

Her five laps around NASCAR’s most famous track Friday felt "a little slow" — no surprise since those IndyCars go about 50 mph faster — and her test was considerably smoother than the storied superspeedway.

Her main concern?

"I felt most disoriented with how the heck I am supposed to get my stuff on?" she said following a rain-shortened ARCA test. "I can’t get in the car with all that stuff and I can’t buckle my belts and I can’t do it with my helmet on. So I get in the car and I have to tuck my hair down the back of the suit and I can’t do it because I am strapped in and I am just awfully confused, so I decided I needed everything on but my helmet and then get in the car.

"It sounds silly, right? It’s logistics, but they’re logistics I am not used to. I am used to being fully dressed and then getting in the car."

If that turns out to be her biggest problem, then her NASCAR future might be brighter than the fluorescent, green-and-orange paint job on her No. 7 Chevrolet.

Patrick started the day with a van ride around the track, getting a much better feel for the 2½-mile tri-oval than she ever got testing IndyCars on Daytona’s road course or racing in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in 2006 and 2009.

Rain delayed the start of the session, and Patrick had dozens of photographers and reporters following her every move through the garage.

"It was a bit of a circus out there," she said. "I’m not unfamiliar with having people around, although it does seem a little funny when there is not much else going on. I definitely feel very singled out. I’m lucky for that, so it definitely felt like there is a lot of interest.

Even competitors were taking pictures during the drivers meeting.

"I definitely felt the lenses of cameras all morning," she said.

Patrick took part in a private test session in Orlando last week, driving ARCA and Nationwide cars, so this wasn’t her first laps in a stock car.

They were her most anticipated. How would she handle the hefty cars on a bumpy track? How would she communicate with crew members? Would she stall leaving pit road, spin coming out of a turn or scrape the wall? Some of the concerns seemed justified when she admitted afterward that she didn’t even know the track was 2½ miles around.

But there were few hiccups.

"The car is different," she said. "It definitely moves around quite a bit. It was getting some action in the rear on the bumps. It was getting a little bit loose, but I kept my foot in it and I tried not to chase it too much with the steering. Didn’t want to have an accident, but I felt all right. It was fun. I trusted the car. I trusted the preparation of it. I trusted the guys."

Patrick was one of a record nine women at the first day of the three-day test. Part-time IndyCar driver Milka Duno, twins Amber and Angela Cope, Alli Owens and Leilani Munter were among the others. But none of them received the attention Patrick got.

Even NASCAR president Mike Helton showed up to watch the sport’s newest star.

"I don’t know I can relate it to anything I can remember," Helton said. "Obviously, there was anticipation when Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and Matt Kenseth moved from the Nationwide Series to the Cup Series and there was anticipation when Tony Stewart decided to switch from open wheels to our type of racing, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything quite like this."

Patrick will make her stock car debut in the ARCA race at Daytona in February. She plans to drive a partial schedule in the Nationwide Series in 2010 and hasn’t ruled out making her NASCAR debut at Daytona.

Her hesitation?

"Just don’t know enough right now," she said. "It’s quite an arena to run my first Nationwide. With 30 Cup guys out there, it’s going to be really, really challenging."

Although crew chief Tony Eury Jr. said Thursday that Patrick is capable of top-15 finishes every week, she stopped short of placing any lofty expectations on herself, especially after just a few laps.

"I would have to say that putting a number on it at all is a bold move," Patrick said. "I don’t ever do that, really. I never really say I think I should run third today or 13th. I never say any number whatsoever because you just don’t know. I never want to be held accountable or judged by you based on what I say. I never give a number. All I can say is I hope to go out there and win every single race, and we’ll see what happens from there."

Helton called Patrick’s arrival positive, adding that "it doesn’t hurt us to have good story lines, and this is certainly a good story line."

But can she live up to the expectations?

"I don’t know," Helton said. "I sure hope so, and I hope everybody’s expectations can be reasonable. That’s important. She’s obviously got her own goals and expectations. … It’s important for the rest of us to be reasonable with ours."