Patrick has much more to learn in NASCAR before her return

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Fontana, CA (Sports Network) - Danica-mania in NASCAR is over...for the time being, anyway.

The Nationwide Series received more attention than ever during the month of February due to the hype surrounding Danica Patrick's foray into stock car racing. Now, it's back to the same ole humdrum for NASCAR's second-tier series until Patrick returns in four months at New Hampshire.

Without question, Patrick's first three Nationwide races have been a learning curve, but there's plenty more for the 27-year-old to study during her stock car crash course.

Following a stellar performance in the February 6 ARCA race at Daytona, Patrick made her Nationwide debut one week earlier than expected. She finished 35th in the series' season-opener after getting caught up in a 12-car wreck just past the halfway point.

Danica Patrick's first three Nationwide races have been a learning curve.
At California, Patrick finished the 300-mile race without incident, but fell three laps behind with a 31st-place result.

Patrick's run last Saturday at Las Vegas came to an end early when she made contact with Michael McDowell and then crashed into the wall on lap 85. Patrick sustained heavy damage to the front end of her car, as she retired with a 36th-place finish.

One thing Patrick has earned in her early stock car career so far is respect from her fellow competitors, particularly Las Vegas Nationwide race winner Kevin Harvick.

"Kevin Harvick was great actually," Patrick said. "Leading the race, he's telling me to go up high with him, so that was cool. I was able to run up high, and feel that line out, because he was giving me the finger out the window. That's really cool to see that, because the guy is leading the race and he's taking time to help me out."

Let's make sure we clarify the finger. Harvick did not display his middle finger as an inappropriate gesture towards her, but raised his left index finger to point her in the right direction on the track.

"I'll give anyone help if they ask," Harvick said after the race. "She's been very receptive on what she needs to do, and she's been very open on asking questions. I don't have any problem helping."

Patrick has a busy IndyCar schedule coming up, beginning with the March 14 inaugural race on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil. But Patrick won't be out of pocket with her JR Motorsports team during her Nationwide absence.

"We've put a lot of effort into these first three stock car races, but my ultimate goal is still to win the [Indianapolis] 500 and the IndyCar championship; that's the primary focus," she said. "It doesn't mean I'll lose touch with my team at JR Motorsports while I'm back in the IndyCar Series. I'll still stay in contact with [crew chief] Tony [Eury Jr.] and keep up with the guys as they get things prepared for my return in June."

In fact, additional stock car tests with JRM could be on her docket before she returns to Nationwide competition.

"I don't think that plan is completely set yet," Patrick said. "We have quite a few months to think about it, but with New Hampshire the first one that I have coming back to the season in June, I'm sure we'll try and replicate that track a little bit and try to go somewhere similar.

"I wouldn't mind if we tested all the time. I think the more I can drive the car the better."

Perhaps further testing should be in the cards for her.

Last week, Patrick spent time in both open-wheel and stock cars. She participated in an IndyCar pre-season open test at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL before heading to Las Vegas. Patrick said the transition from one car to another was "circumstantial," but admitted her getting back into a stock car was an unpleasant experience at first.

"We lowered the steering wheel, and we brought it towards me, and we're trying to get it look more like the other drivers have it," she said. "I went out there, and I was freaking out, because it felt like I was driving on top of the car. I couldn't see the steering wheel, and I felt so uncomfortable."

Hopefully, that won't be the same problem when she arrives at New Hampshire.

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