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2012-02-22 09:46

DARLING OF DICING: Danica Patrick and her crew push her Chevrolet in the pits during practice for the Nascar Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Florida. Image: AFP

Steve Ginsburg

DAYTONA - Danica Patrick, 29, and the darling of US track racing, is convinced that "if the stars are aligned" she can win the Daytona 500 at her first attempt on Sunday.

The tiny driver - all 1.57m of her - said she was emboldened by the 2011 win of 20-year-old Trevor Bayne, a rookie who took the chequered flag in only his second Sprint Cup start. She conceded, however, that the list of things that have to go right is long.

"If everything goes right, the stars are aligned, I do my homework and get a comfortable car, and get comfortable with the other drivers on the track, and start earning their respect, and having great racing out there, there's really an opportunity," she told Reuters.


She turned quiet for a moment, pondering the list. "What more do you expect? It is my first Sprint Cup race," she said with a laugh. "It's the Daytona 500 - I have a lot to learn."

Patrick's highly anticipated move from open-wheel racing to Nascar's top tier was a shot in the arm for the stock-car series. TV ratings declined for three straight seasons before showing a modest rise a year ago.

Patrick is the only woman to have won in IndyCars and compares the switch as like moving from a Lamborghini to a van before adding: "Remember, I chose to drive the van.

"Everything is different but it's still racing, which is the common theme... it's still just a race car but all of your tools are different.

"The racing is at much closer quarters, much more bumping, banging and laying on each other. And I really mean laying door-to-door on each other. The racing is tighter."


Patrick plans to race full-time in the Sprint Cup series in 2013 while driving mostly in the second-tier Nationwide Series for the rest of 2012. As only the third woman to start a Daytona 500, she expects her mettle to be tested.

"Will they trade paint with me? Yeah," she snapped. "And I'm going to do the same to them. From a veteran perspective, they're going to see how far they can push it with me.

"They're going to test the water. They're going to see if they can get away with pushing me around. My job as a new driver, a rookie and someone looking for respect, is to give it back to them. And that's where the respect is earned."

Patrick, who flew from Daytona to address the National Press Club in Washington before quickly heading back, admitted that despite her tough talk she had a lot of normal fears.

"I'm not scared of going 200 miles an hour (320km/h) but I'm scared of heights," she said. "I'm scared of water where I can't see the bottom. I'm scared of bugs. I'm scared of the dark.

"I'm scared of ghosts. I'm scared of simple stuff. Oddly enough, when I drive over a bridge, it's a little bit scary... you'd think I'd be relaxed as a race-car driver doing that."

She will not, however, be afraid on Sunday.

"Trevor winning was a good confidence boost for someone such as me and any other rookie coming into the series looking for a reason to be optimistic," she said. "There are a lot of things that have to go right to win the Daytona 500 - but it is really possible."

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