KANNAPOLIS, N.C., – Atlanta Motor Speedway is considered one of the fastest tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit, and for good reason. Geoff Bodine set the track record in November 1997 when he qualified in the top spot at 197.478 mph. And, in March 2010, Dale Earnhardt Jr., hit 192.761 mph en route to winning the pole.
Danica Patrick will be making her first career appearance at Atlanta this weekend when she competes in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events at the 1.54-mile oval. When she drives onto the track for practice Friday in the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet to prepare for Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500 Sprint Cup Series race, the speed – at least to some degree – won’t be new to her.
Coming from the INDYCAR world, Patrick is no stranger to going well over 200 mph. In 2005, during her rookie IZOD IndyCar Series season, she set the tone early at the Indianapolis 500 when she posted the fastest lap on the opening day of practice at 221.463 mph. She went on to set the fastest practice lap five times throughout the month – more than any other driver – including Pole Day and Carb Day.
Patrick’s practice lap of 229.880 mph on Pole Day was the fastest of any driver during the month and the fastest turned by any woman in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. During her qualification attempt, Patrick made an impressive save as her car bobbled in turn one on her first lap, earning her rave reviews for her car control by longtime Speedway observers. She ended up qualifying with a four-lap average of 227.004 mph, good for the fourth spot on the grid and the best-ever starting position for a woman in the historic race.
Patrick then found victory lane in the IZOD IndyCar Series in April 2008 at the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval in Japan, where speeds often hit the 200-mph mark.
That said, Patrick’s numerous moments above 200 mph came in a 1,500-pound, rear-engine car with downforce provided by front and rear wings. The No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet she will drive this weekend in Atlanta is a front-engine, 3,500-pound, stock car that couldn’t be more different from an Indy car.
So while she’ll be used to the speed that Atlanta Motor Speedway is known for, the sensory input from that high speed will be vastly different from what she’s used to.
Patrick heads to Atlanta after a solid weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway that saw her finish ninth in the Nationwide Series event Friday night at the tricky .533-mile concrete oval, then run a respectable race in the Sprint Cup event Saturday night. Patrick was on the lead lap and in the top-20 in just her fourth career Sprint Cup Series start and first at Bristol when her GoDaddy.com Chevrolet was hit by Regan Smith’s car, spinning her into the SAFER Barrier on the inside retaining wall of the frontstretch. Her night was done after 434 laps and she was credited with 29th place, but the experience and confidence taken away from the event were extremely valuable.
She’ll look to take that experience and confidence from Bristol into Atlanta and “speed” up her ongoing NASCAR education.
What are your overall thoughts on Atlanta? “I’ve heard lots of great things about Atlanta. It’s good racing. The tires definitely go off with the surface and the line moves around a lot. For me, it’s going to be a big weekend not only from the standpoint that there’s Cup and Nationwide with the GoDaddy.com cars, but it’s a big Coca-Cola weekend, so I’ll be really busy. I think nothing is better than going to a new track and having lots of track time.”
Tony Stewart said he picked the toughest tracks for you for your 10-race Sprint Cup schedule this year. Do you think it’s beneficial? “I don’t think that being able to know whether or not it’s beneficial at this point is really possible. The part that we’ll know if it’s beneficial will come next year, when either I feel much more comfortable coming back to those tracks or I have better results. At this point and time, it’s about gaining the experience. There is a saying, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ So I’m sure that it will help in the long run. But, until we get to next year and actually know how I feel, that will decide whether or not these races helped or not. As long as I can keep my head up and stay confident and stay looking forward and upbeat, I think they will serve that purpose. But, there’s always that chance these are humbling moments, especially being at the tough tracks they are at and the tough races they are. I’ve just got to focus on staying positive.”
What did you learn last week at Bristol? “I learned a ton. I learned how the track changes. I learned how the track gets looser and looser as it goes. We were just tightening the car up all night. We learned a lot about that and, while we didn’t get to the very end, we got really close and that’s a good thing. I felt all night I was being smart and Tab (Boyd), my spotter, was being smart about observing what kind of cars were around me and would tell me, ‘Just let them go, we’ve got our race to run.’ I would do it and have no problem with that. You just have to look around, sometime, and see the cars that are beat up and those are the one you have to be a little leery about.”
You struggled in practice on Friday and then were in the top-20 and on the lead lap late in the race at Bristol. On race morning, how would you have gauged your chances of doing that? “To be honest, to come from 34th to a top-10 (in the Nationwide Series) Friday night after the terrible practice we had, and then being last in practice to being in the top-20 and on the lead lap (in the Sprint Cup race) was an example of what you need to do as a team and as a group. And that’s to just stay focused and know that the race is a whole different thing and just be smart and never get down. That’s what we did. We were just smart with everything and just tried to stay out of trouble and, unfortunately, trouble found me.”
Notes: The AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway will mark Danica Patrick’s fifth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start and her first at Atlanta Motor Speedway. She has never competed in a NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Atlanta.
Patrick has career totals of one top-five finish, five top-10s, 55 laps led and one pole in 48 career NASCAR Nationwide Series races.
In 2012 Nationwide Series competition, Patrick has one pole (Daytona) and a best finish of eighth, which came in April at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. She led once for a race-high 20 laps two weeks ago on the road course at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal until mechanical problems caused her to go to the garage for repairs. She finished 27th, six laps down.
Patrick started 34th and finished ninth in last week’s Nationwide Series race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway to score her second top-10 of 2012. In Saturday night’s Sprint Cup Series race, she was in the top-20 and on the lead lap with 66 laps remaining when her car was hit by another car and contacted the SAFER Barrier on the inside retaining wall of the frontstretch. She finished 29th.
The remaining races on Patrick’s Sprint Cup Series schedule after Atlanta are at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., Dover (Del.) International Speedway, Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Phoenix International Raceway. Four Score: In March 2011, Patrick finished fourth in the Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the best-ever finish by a woman in a NASCAR national stock-car series, topping a fifth-place run by Sarah Christian in a Sprint Cup race in 1949 at Heidelberg (Pa.) Raceway.
History Maker: Patrick became the first woman to win a major-league open-wheel race in a North American series in April 2009 by winning the IZOD IndyCar Series Indy Japan 300 at the Twin Ring Motegi oval in Japan.
Point Taken: In 2009, Patrick finished fifth in IZOD IndyCar Series points, the best finish ever for a woman in the series.
Big Stage: In seven Indianapolis 500 starts, Patrick finished in the top-10 six times, including a third-place result in 2009, the best finish ever for a woman in the historic race.
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