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The DANICAR tour continues: But Chapter Two, here in LA, may be a much tougher read for her

  Another day, more Danica....and she seems to be handling it all rather coolly (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   FONTANA, Calif.
   Round Two of stock car racing 101 for Indy racer Danica Patrick here looks like it's going to be a lot trickier than Round One at Daytona.
   On the track at least.
   All the other stuff, like the Jimmy Kimmel show, well, she's smooth and polished at all that already.
   But out there on the track, that's a different story.
   She was surprisingly successful, perhaps, at Daytona, in the ARCA 200, and in the draft in the Nationwide 300, though she got caught up in a crash midway.
   First, the speeds are higher than at Daytona. And the banking is only 14 degrees at this two-mile eastern LA track, not Daytona's 31 degrees.
   Even veterans sometimes have a tough time getting around this place. And crashes here can be vicious; just ask Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had one of the worst of his career here a few years back.
   And Patrick, during practice, has not appeared very comfortable.
   So what to expect from her in Saturday's 300-mile Nationwide run (5:30 p.m. ET)?
   She seems to be setting expectations low.
   Here in the eye of Hurricane Danica, she exudes a remarkable calm, for what she's having to put up with, on and off the track.
   Indeed Patrick's appeal to casual fans and non-fans is part of her intrigue, and she should bring newcomers to the sport. She's been doing some PR appearances out here. And she's been sensitive to the issue of trying not to overshadow or upstage the rest of the drivers....even though much of that is out of her hands, as the mob of media surrounding her shows.
   Patrick of course has been a high-profile figure for several years now. But this whole NASCAR thing brings that to a new, much higher level, and she seems rather surprised.  "It's just that there are more of you here," she says. "That's really the big difference. I get all the same questions...just there's a bigger outreach here – and I'd better watch what I say.
   "But doing things outside the car, I have fun with it. I get to be girly every now and then, put on makeup...and it's fun to do.
   "If it wasn't fun I wouldn't do it.
   "But it's getting people out to the races, and getting more eyeballs on the sport, and on the sponsors on the sides of the cars...and not just mine... and I don't mind it at all."
    Has Patrick been overshadowing Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray? And how does she feel about that?
   "It sounds like people from East Coast to West Coast are talking about NASCAR right now, which is a good thing," she says.
   Do the other drivers respect her yet?
   "You'll have to ask them," she says. "My job is to earn respect. And I haven't really had enough racing out there to know if they're playing nice and fair. I don't even know what that is yet.
    "I don't know what is 'normal' yet.
      "I think I saw Jamie win the race last weekend, and other drivers came up afterwards and bumped him. Is that like a pat on the butt in football? Is bumping friendly?
   "But all the drivers have been very nice and outgoing, and that's nice."

    This isn't Patrick's first look at California's Auto Club Speedway....but this track is quite different in a stock car than in an Indy-car.
   "In an Indy-car (she ran here in 2005) you never lifted here," she said. "And you never came off the white line. I've driven flat-out around here...but you need grip.
   "I'm still not totally happy; I'm not totally comfortable on entry into the corner.
   "But we've made improvements, but I'm still not there yet."
   "There is definitely a difference between running behind people here than at Daytona," she says. "You can definitely get the air taken off you.
   "But there is a lot of room out there, plenty of places to go. So it's more traditional, from a passing standpoint.
    "What you need in a car so you can pass is having something under you you can trust and believe in. And the consistency of that setup.
    "There are things with this I am just not happy with, that I'm working with. I'm not just trying to learn this car and this track, I'm trying to learn how to improve, trying to learn where to be on the track.
  "I just don't know how it's supposed to feel...or what to feel. I don't have those answers. It just takes time. I just need laps; I need to know how the car changes from the beginning of a run through the end of a run....being able to make changes on a pit stop to improve the car.
   "A majority of the year is going to be letting off the gas and braking, and dealing with a car you have to fight a little bit. Only four races are like the Daytona and Talladega draft.
    "Everything is new to me. Getting comfortable with the car on the track is what I need."

    Perhaps complicating things, Patrick will be testing her Indy car in the next few days before heading up to Las Vegas for next weekend's Nationwide stop.
   "We'll get our first real look at how that goes," she says. "I don't think that will be a huge problem.
    "I tested the Indy-car a few weeks ago and it was 'Wow! This thing is snappy. It turns really quick.'
   "But we'll deal with that when it comes, and I'm sure I'll be comfortable in a lap or two."


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    Results from final practice for Saturday's Nationwide 300 at California's Auto Club Speedway



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