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The Woman In Green Meets The Lady In Black

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 11 2012

Danica Patrick gets advice from Tony Stewart in the garages at Darlington on Friday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The subject was Danica Patrick’s sheet metal-wadding frustrations after last week’s Nationwide Series race at Talladega.  Just wait, a colleague who is a veteran NASCAR beat writer said during a Monday chat on the telephone, until she gets to Darlington.

Patrick got to Darlington, the 1.33-mile South Carolina oval that many regard as the toughest on the schedule, on Friday and the wait to which the colleague alluded was a short one.

In her first practice in her Sprint Cup car, Patrick began bouncing off the famed Darlington walls. She ended that practice last on the speed charts, a full 2 mph slower than the second-slowest driver.

“This is a tough place and everything they said about it is true,” Patrick said afterward. “This Lady in Black is very intimidating. I’m just trying to get comfortable with what the car needs me to do. Where to brake, how heavy to brake and those kinds of things. I’ve got my Darlington stripes officially. It’s all the way down the right side of the car.”

Patrick improved in the second Cup practice of the day. She left the track with the 24th fastest lap. She left with no new damage to the right-side panels of her No. 10 Chevrolet Impala.

Still, she said her expectations for the weekend – she is driving in both the Cup and Nationwide races – are “tempered”.

“I definitely think getting through the night with a respectable night is what I’m hoping for in the Nationwide car and as far as the Cup car, I just want to finish,” she said.  “I just want to finish, which is going to be a challenge I think. The cars definitely move around quite a bit and you’re carrying a lot of speed through these corners and there’s going to be a lot of other guys that are around you running really hard. It’s a narrow track. Let’s face it, it’s got great big straightaways, but there’s one lane going in and out. Just getting to the end of the Cup race is going to be the accomplishment for me.”

Patrick finished last weekend’s Nationwide race at Talladega. It was after the finish that she got in trouble as she intentionally wrecked Sam Hornish Jr. on the cool-down lap.

Patrick will not be the only high-profile NASCAR newbie on the track this weekend. Action sports star Travis Pastrana is driving in his second Nationwide race on Friday night.

On Friday, he talked about Darlington.

“Never really been scared in NASCAR until today, for sure,” Pastrana, who was very impressive in his NNS debut, finishing 22nd at Richmond two weeks ago, said. “Everyone says every track you go to, ‘Oh, this is the hardest track or this is this or this is different or challenging,’ but never before have I been that scared that far along. It’s definitely faster than it looks on TV and you have so much room to the inside, but there’s only one line.

“You have to hit – especially turn one – you have to hit the inside, it slides all the way to the top no matter how slow or fast you go, so you might as well hold it pinned and see what happens. I kept lifting right at the end and they said, ‘Well, the good drivers around here will hold it pinned,’ so I did that and I spun a 720 down the backstretch and was able to keep it off the walls and realized maybe I’m not a good driver yet. We’ll learn on that.”

Both Patrick and Pastrana will be looking to earn respect every time they suit up this year. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson was asked about the respect-earning process for you drivers.

Especially the respect-earning process for drivers who come to NASCAR from other series.

“In any sport, you’ve got to come in and earn the respect,” Johnson said. “Regardless of lower divisions; if you look at the NFL and regardless of your draft pick or whatever it is, you don’t show up to the pro leagues and have respect. You’ve done a lot of great things to get you there; but it’s always a different pace, a different level of effort in either. There’s just a lot of change when you get to the top level of any division, of any sport. And you have to go out and earn that respect. And that’s something that I took a lot of pride in coming up through the ranks.

“I took a couple of licks before I passed one out. And there are people that come into any sport and I’ve seen it in ours, where they expect to have the respect out of the gate. And they act in a certain way. And it makes life tough for them. But, you just have to go out there and earn it. It’s just the way it works.”

At the track but not in his No. 14 Nationwide car Friday was Eric McClure.

McClure crashed hard into an inside wall last week at Talladega. The wreck resulted in McClure being air-lifted to a hospital, where he stayed until Monday.

He was asked about the wreck and said, “I’m doing OK, about as well as can be expected. I’m definitely sore and battling some things this week. It’s obviously been a very long week for me and my family. I’m thankful to be here and certainly very thankful for the safety initiatives and everything NASCAR’s put on display over the years – certainly, firsthand experience – very grateful for that. I would just like to say thank you to everyone.”

McClure said he suffered a concussion and internal bruises.

He was asked what he remembered about the wreck.

“I remember bits and pieces of everything,” he said. “It’s very spotty at times after the impact. I just remember being really excited – we were in a good position and I felt like I had an opportunity for our first top-10 and we were just in a pack there. Saw the smoke ahead of me and went to hit the brake pedal and the brakes were not there. At that point, I just remember getting hit by someone and going towards the wall. At that point, I just braced for impact and that’s really all I remember until after the accident.”

Veteran Jeff Green is filling in for McClure this weekend.

Asked if he had any thoughts about not racing again, McClure said, “No. I love to race. Sometimes I question how good I am at it sometimes. Never had a doubt that I wanted to do it again. Obviously, when you’re in a situation like that and things are happening fast and you’ve just been through something like that, you’re a human being and thousands of things run through your head. As far as questioning my desire to do this, I don’t. I look forward to going through the process that NASCAR has laid out, getting the right clearance when it’s time to come back and at this point, when they do that, I look forward to doing it and racing again and trying to get better.”

(This story will be updated as events warrant)

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 11 2012
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