By Doug Halberstadt
NASCAR jump-starts its 2012 season this weekend with the 54th annual Daytona 500. “The Great American Race” has become the biggest, richest and most prestigious event in the world of motorsports. This year, it’s even a little bit more special for local race fans. It’ll be the first time we get to see former Roscoe resident Danica Patrick race for the coveted title of Daytona 500 champion. She’ll be making her Sprint Cup debut in NASCAR’s biggest race.
Last season, Patrick ran 12 races in NASCAR’s second-tier Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports, with GoDaddy.com as her sponsor. She managed two Top 10 finishes in those 12 starts. Her best finish was fourth place at Las Vegas early in the season, and then in July she came home 10th at Daytona. The fourth-place finish is the highest ever by a female driver in a NASCAR national event.
Patrick will run twice at Daytona this weekend. Patrick will hit the track Saturday afternoon, Feb. 25, for the 120-lap Drive4COPD 300, and then at noon, Sunday, Feb. 26, she’ll take the green flag for the 200-lap Daytona 500.
The practice runs she is getting as one of the entrants in the Daytona 500 Sprint Cup race Sunday should be a huge help in the Drive4COPD 300 Nationwide event the day before.
“There’s very little Nationwide testing here,” Patrick said during Speedweek’s Media Day last Thursday, Feb. 16. “I thought to myself, ‘What a wonderful thing that I’m doing the Daytona 500,’ because, in my lack of experience, I didn’t notice a difference between the two cars (the No. 7 car owned by JR Motorsports that she will race in the Nationwide season opener and the Stewart-Haas No. 10 Chevrolet she will be in for the Daytona 500).
“I didn’t drive them back to back,” she said, “but when I came and tested (the Daytona 500 car) a few weeks ago, it feels very similar to a Nationwide car. I think the Cup practice is going to be great for the Nationwide race, and I think the Nationwide race is going to help a lot for the next day for the Daytona 500.”
Patrick has downplayed her chances of winning “The Great American Race” in her first try. She has cited her inexperience and the talented field she’ll be up against as two of the biggest obstacles she’ll be facing.
She does have one huge supporter on her side, last year’s Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart.
“Did anybody think Trevor Bayne could win the race last year?” Stewart questioned. “Anything can happen here. It’s anybody’s ballgame. Talent-wise, there’s no doubt in my mind she’s got the ability to do it.”
Patrick is scheduled to compete in all 33 Nationwide races in 2012 and also plans to run in nine other Sprint Cup events. This season will mark the first time in seven years she will not be competing in the IndyCar Series.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the Feb. 22-28, 2012, issue