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Danica’s NASCAR Education Begins In Daytona

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 10 2010
Danica Patrick and her Nationwide Series crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., talk racing during a break in practice Wednesday. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Danica Patrick and her Nationwide Series crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., talk racing during a break in practice Wednesday. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

Daytona Beach, Fla. – The stock car education of Danica Patrick reached a new level Wednesday in the first NASCAR Nationwide Series practice of the 2010 season.

It didn’t take Patrick long to figure out the difference between the ARCA car she raced to an impressive sixth-place finish last Saturday at Daytona and the JR Motorsports Chevrolet she will drive this week in her NASCAR debut.

“It was a bit of a handful at times,’’ Patrick said Wednesday after turning the 26th fastest lap among 51 drivers who took part in the two-hour practice on Daytona International Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval. “I kept the car in one piece (and) ran out there with some big guys, so that was good. I played it pretty safe.’’

Everyone on her team, including co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., spent some time working with her and answering her questions Wednesday – and she had plenty of questions.

“She just soaks it up, man,’’ said Tony Eury Jr., her crew chief. “She just asks question after question and we just keep trying to give her answers.’’

Eury, who guided Earnhardt to two Nationwide series championships before both moved to the Sprint Cup series, said he has been impressed with the way IZOD IndyCar Series star Patrick has caught on to the big, heavy stock cars.

“Our practice went real well,’’ he said. “I was real happy with the way she took over. She’s learning the difference between the (Nationwide) cars and the ARCA cars. The ARCA car’s just a lot more planted and these cars move around a lot more, so it took a little bit for us to get the car tuned in to her. We just kind of did some things to the back to kind of settle it down a little bit.

“But, overall, she’s pretty happy with the car. It’s just a little bit tight off the corner and we’re going to work on that tomorrow.  But, overall, I’m excited.’’

Patrick said the way the Nationwide car moves around on the banking has been the toughest change to grasp.

“There’s just some things we have to tolerate with this car because that’s how the Nationwide car is,’’ Patrick said. “I’m not sure how much I have to put up with, so I need to learn what that is all about.’’

But, so far, so good, according to Eury.

“She liked (the draft),’’ he said. “She said she couldn’t believe how much people are lifting and really driving the cars here. She said that with the ARCA car it was more flat out, the car was really locked to the racetrack, where these guys they’re really having to hustle them. You can be free off or really tight.

“That’s just part of the game. That’s the one reason why we brought her out here was she done real well against those guys last week, but she knows that’s it’s going to step up this week. We brought her out here to get her experience with the guys she’s going to be racing against (next week) in California and to see the level of competition and how it steps up.’’

Many of the biggest names in Sprint Cup will also be running in the Nationwide race Saturday, but Eury said he’s not worried about anyone trying to muscle Patrick.

“I think the sport’s professional enough they’re not going to go to that level,’’ he said. “If you notice, there was a lot of Cup drivers out there  who were drafting with her (in practice), kind of getting around her, trying to get a feel of how she was in the draft and how much did she move around.

“That’s what I told her about (last) Saturday night. She was very predictable about every move that she made. That’s the one way you’ll get respect from the Cup guys and the guys in the Nationwide series.’’

Patrick looked pretty intense and focused as she talked things over with Eury and her engineers in the garage after practice. But she said she’s happy with the way things are going.

“We did make some progress and we’ve got an hour and something (of practice) tomorrow,’’ Patrick said. “The car was pretty fast. I feel like I can really pull up on people and I catch ‘em a lot in the corners. If I can figure it out, I think we’ll have a pretty good (Nationwide) start.’’

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 10 2010
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