If Patrick doesn’t do well the rest of her career, it won’t be because she lacked opportunity. She’s lucky enough to be racing stock cars as a rookie for JR Motorsports, an offshoot of the Hendrick Motorsports group that has dominated NASCAR for years and grabbed both front row starting spots for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
The Nationwide series event that Patrick will race a day earlier on the same Daytona track is a tier lower. But her handlers say her sixth-place debut in a warmup race last weekend proved she’s already skilled enough to make the jump. Patrick’s finish settled a lot of concerns: Could she draft off the cars running in front of her and make up ground on the crowded track? She did. Could she handle the intentional bumping and sideswiping that’s routine in stock car racing but happens mostly by accident in open wheel, Indy-style drag car racing? Again, the answer was yes.
Patrick spun out once in the crash-filled race, then recovered smoothly and daringly took an aggressive racing line to just miss a top-five finish.
“You drove the wheels off that thing, girl!” team co-owner Rick Hendrick told her after the checkered flag fell.
Patrick’s show of attitude last weekend was reminiscent of when she first hit the IndyCar circuit five years ago. She really, truly didn’t seem interested in mere moral victories then, either. Patrick posted the fastest time in qualifying or practice for her first Indy 500 at 229.880 mph. She nearly became the first woman to win the pole position, too.
Before the race Patrick told reporters, "I'm going to go out there and prove to you time and again that I belong here, that I will race up front, and that I'm a great driver and not just driving for a great team.” Then she led the race for 19 laps, losing the lead for the final time with just seven laps to go. She finished fourth overall — the best showing ever for a woman at Indy. Yet afterward she snapped that it wasn’t good enough.
“I wanted to win,” Patrick seethed.
Images of Danica Patrick from her years with IRL, IndyCar and now NASCAR.
Video: Motor sports coverage
One-on-one with Parnelli Jones
Retired American racecar driver and owner Parnelli Jones looks back at his legacy as the 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner. Jones recalls memories from the seven times he ran the race. Jones is now the oldest living winner at 79 years old.
Latest from MotorSportsTalk
Robin Miller and Parnelli Jones: One-on-one (VIDEO)2 hr 47 min ago
24 Hours of Le Mans entry list updated on race website3 hr 17 min ago
Dale Coyne’s team an underdog to watch Sunday at Indy6 hr 16 min ago
To win the Coca-Cola 600, you have to go through Kasey Kahne7 hr 16 min ago
“Turbo” star Michael Pena to wave green flag at Indy 5009 hr 16 min ago
Helio Castroneves wants a Stingray in his driveway (VIDEO)10 hr 17 min ago
Sparks fly and cars spin out wildly when NASCAR drivers get into accidents.