Dan­ica Pa­trick sees op­por­tu­nity at Day­tona

Cecil Whig - - & - Staff RE­PORT

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.”

GETTY IMAGES FOR NASCAR

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.

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