This weekend, Danica Patrick has the same ride she carried to an overload of publicity at Daytona International Speedway in February.
Can she score another top 10 in the second restrictor-plate race of the season?
“I suppose based on Daytona and how fast this car is, which is the same car we ran at Daytona, and how the race went, I suppose it’s fair to say that there should be a little spike in expectation, but you also have to take into consideration on these big speedways that there is a whole lot of luck that comes into it,” Patrick said Friday.
“Everything has got to be clean. The [pit] stops have to be good. You have to stay in the pack – no issues, not getting caught up in an accident. From what I remember last year, even at Talladega it was more of a pack race than Daytona even. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. Obviously, this is a wider track than Daytona, so when we start getting four-wide that is when stuff starts to get a little exciting. We will just have to hope that we are in the right place at the right time.”
Patrick, who won the pole for the Daytona 500, dropped from victory contention to an eighth-place finish over the closing sweep in the race. What did she learn that might help Sunday?
“I learned that if I just stay in line and keep my foot down and don’t try and come up with any kind of plan that you are kind of a sitting duck,” she said. “I mean, I talked to Tony (Stewart) after the race, and I talked to Jimmie (Johnson, who won the 500) after the race, too. I think Tony pointed it out most specifically is just that there was probably more to lose in third than there was to gain. By pulling out and trying something I could have just as easily ended up 15th or so back – again right place at the right time with the right opportunity ahead of you.
“I have a better idea of what it is going to take, but it’s also circumstantial. Jimmie told me after the race ‘Look, I didn’t have a plan. The two times I’ve won now, I didn’t have any plan going into the last lap.’ That is where the luck comes in and right place at the right time.”
Still, doing well in a plate race requires some planning, she said.
“You have to be smart enough to know when you’re putting yourself in a bad situation and when you need to force the issue,” she said. “That’s the exciting part. As a fan, I’ve watched plenty of these speedway races in Cup, and I want to watch to see how it plays out, too, and I think that’s part of the excitement of these tracks is that you’re not sure how it’s going to play out. There can be some new players up front and there can be some real shuffling of the field, and that’s what makes it exciting to watch is you just have to watch it to see how it plays out.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.