BRISTOL -- Although Danica Patrick didn't grow up racing stock cars, she understands beating and banging is part of the business at Bristol Motor Speedway.
In fact, she has no problem getting physical at this Sunday's Food City 500 as long as it doesn't get out of hand.
"I don't mind some beating and banging out there, I don't mind pushing your way around a little bit," said the Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year contender. "It is just the nature of short tracks when you are running really close to one another. You put 43 cars out on a track this size; you are filling up a lot of the track. The short tracks are conducive for close racing. I enjoy it."
It's different in the cockpit of her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet than it was racing Indy Cars. Obviously, it's safer being inside a full-bodied stock car on a short track where speeds are not in excess of 150 mph than touching tires in an open-wheel machine on a superspeedway. It leads a more physical brand of driving, although one which Patrick is a willing participant.
"I've always said from the beginning that NASCAR is a lot of fun for me because if somebody lays on you, you can lay right back," she said. "You aren't risking your life, like the old days in IndyCar when somebody would do something that was not intelligent to you, I understood that it was a physical risk to try and get them back, because when the wheels are exposed, bad things happen. Not here, though. Not in NASCAR. You can bump and bang all you like."
She might have to use a little of the bump-and-run to move forward as Patrick admitted that the high groove is faster than the low line which suits her driving style. Despite that, she was impressive for much of her Cup Series debut at Bristol last August. She was still in the top 20 of the IRWIN Tools Night Race when she got caught up in a wreck with Regan Smith on lap 435.
"When we are racing nose-to-tail really close, it's always more of a risk, of course," she said. "But, there is nothing I can do to prepare myself better for the race that would fix the problem from last time of getting taken out. If you get taken out, you get taken out. Hopefully that doesn't happen. The best thing I can do for that is try and get further up the field so that it is around some smarter drivers."
Patrick, 29, ran the full Nationwide Series last season and competed in 10 Sprint Cup races. Now running the full Sprint Cup schedule, she sees the benefits from having experience at tracks like Bristol and Darlington.
"It was a great way to more than get my feet wet with the series," she said. "With the different car, it's nice to come to a place like Bristol that you know is going to be challenging, and know you have done some laps here. It's not going to be the be-all-end-all of running up front. But all of it helps."
She's had her greatest success on larger tracks, becoming the first woman to win a Sprint Cup Series pole at Daytona last month, and also becoming one of 13 drivers to lead a lap in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500.
Her background is more road racing, but the former IndyCar winner has taken a liking to the high-banked short track. She added if a driver can find the right rhythm on Bristol's high banks, even 500 laps don't seem like such a drag.
"I've liked Bristol since the first time I came here," she said. "It is a different mindset. I feel like no matter what happens, whether it's a 200-lap race, or a 500-lap race, you find your rhythm. Time goes by fast sometimes, and sometimes it's slow. All I can hope is the car has a decent balance because when it doesn't, that's when the laps seem wrong. If we can just get a decent car, and get into a rhythm, and find ourselves in a good spot, have a consistent car throughout the race, time does go pretty quickly."