Danica Patrick sees opportunity at Daytona
NASCAR Wire Service
Daytona International Speedway has a pattern of producing first-time winners.
Five active drivers, all thought of as surprises at the time, made their inaugural visit to Victory Lane at “The World Center of Racing” known for its blazing speeds and tight restrictor-plate competition: Michael Waltrip (2001), Greg Biffle (2003), Trevor Bayne (2011), David Ragan (2011) and Aric Almirola (2014).
Danica Patrick hopes to be the next first-time winner at the 2.5-mile track in Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola (7:45 p.m. ET on NBC).
“I’ve always enjoyed speedway racing since I came to NASCAR,” Patrick said. “They’ve been places where I feel like I’ve had opportunities. And a lot of people do. But that’s what makes it exciting — the opportunities to do really well, to win races, and of course with NASCAR’s structure of the Chase being like it is (win and you’re in), it opens that door up for opportunities.”
Patrick owns a solid Daytona resume. She earned the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2013 and finished eighth. Overall, the former openwheel standout has registered two of her six career top-10 finishes there.
Last month at Coke Zero 400 media day, Patrick explained the ingredients to winning at a restrictor-plate track.
“Sometimes you have to have luck on your side, you have to have experience on your side, you have to have friends on your side behind you (and) go with you if you decide to pull out because you’re not winning the race and you need to make a move,” she said. “There are a lot of things that go into winning a race, which is why it’s so valued. Even the best driver that year, if they win a handful, that is a great year.”
Patrick sits 24th on the Chase Grid, 97 points behind Kasey Kahne on the cutoff line. With just 10 races left in the regular season, winning a race is virtually the only way she can secure a berth in NASCAR’s playoffs – a feat that is not unprecedented. Almirola’s Daytona victory in 2014 allowed him to jump into the Chase when he wouldn’t have made it on points. Furthermore, Patrick’s teammate, Tony Stewart, took the checkered flag Sunday at Sonoma – his first win in nearly three years – when it looked like his Chase chances were close to impossible.
“Superspeedways are always opportunities for me,” Patrick said. “I feel like they always could be good weekends. I think that our superspeedway program is maybe not quite as strong as it was when I got the pole in 2013, but it by no means means we can’t have a great weekend.”
Ty Dillon searches for win at Daytona
Including the last NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Iowa, Ty Dillon has reg- istered three runner-up finishes and 22 top-five showings since his last win 61 starts ago at Indianapolis (2014).
Known to have a “winning means everything” mindset, Dillon will attempt to make his next visit to Victory Lane in Friday’s Subway Firecracker 250 Presented By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
In six starts at The World Center of Racing, the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing driver claims one top-five finish (a third-place showing in 2015) and two top-10 performances. Dillon won the pole in his last start at Daytona in February, but finished 13th.
“I enjoy superspeedway racing, but we’ve had a little bad luck so far this season,” Dillon said. “The goal is always to win the race, but we have struggled to finish inside the top 10. I think with this new XFINITY Series Chase format, we can afford to be a little more aggressive, but we also would like to keep the car clean and finish the race.
Despite not faring well at superspeedways in his young career, Dillon believes he has the tools to succeed.
“I feel that we are at an advantage on tracks like these for a few reasons; one being the ECR Engines power that we bring to the track and two, being my spotter, Billy O’Dea. He and I work pretty well together when I’m on the race track. He has the eyes in the sky and is always a huge help at superspeedways.”
Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series TOYOTA OWNERS 400 at Richmond International Raceway earlier this year in Richmond, Va.