BRISTOL — Danica Patrick is ready to tackle the World’s Fastest Half-Mile.
When she takes the green flag in tonight’s IRWIN Tools Night Race, the 30-year-old Patrick will become the first woman to compete in a Sprint Cup event at Bristol Motor Speedway since Janet Guthrie in 1977.
Racing stock cars on the short tracks is still a learning process for Patrick, who has an extensive open-wheel background. The struggles were evident in practice and qualifying.
Her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet was slowest in both of the day’s practice sessions and spun during Nationwide Series qualifying.
“Short tracks, it’s just a different kind of racing,” she said. “A lot of the drivers in NASCAR came from short-track racing, local short-track racing, and I didn’t. I came from road courses and high speeds. So I guess that’s why I feel more comfortable in those environments.”
Patrick, who raced in Friday’s Food City 250, is one of nine drivers pulling double-duty in Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races this weekend. Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Sam Hornish Jr., Scott Riggs, Josh Wise and Joe Nemechek are the others.
Patrick came into the weekend off a strong showing in the Nationwide Series race at Montreal. She led 20 of 81 laps, the most laps ever led by a female driver in the Nationwide Series, before handling troubles led to a 27th-place finish.
Now scheduled to run 500 laps on Bristol’s high banks, Sprint Cup car owner Tony Stewart gave her the same advice he does for every other race.
“Go out and learn is exactly what I’ve told her,” Stewart said. “It’s not rocket science. The biggest thing is every lap you run in a car, the better you’re going to get and the more you’re going to learn. Even if you’re running fifth or 25th, you’re learning something.
“The goal of these races is to give her laps in the car and get her more time and experience. The good thing is she’s excited about it, and that’s the attitude you have to have going into it.”
Patrick pointed out it was Stewart who chose the 10 Sprint Cup races she will run this season in preparation for a full season in the circuit in 2013. He picked the toughest races on the circuit including the Southern 500 at Darlington and the IRWIN Tools Night Race as part of those 10 races.
“We’ll know if it’s beneficial come next year,” Patrick said. “As long as I can keep my head up and stay confident, and stay looking forward and upbeat, I think they will serve that purpose. But there’s always that chance that these are humbling moments especially being the tough races they are. I’ve just got to focus on staying positive.”