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And the Danica Update: Las Vegas 300, and she appears still undaunted, despite California's problems

  Danica Patrick, and California is in her rearview (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Danica Patrick continues to impress NASCAR people with her media savvy and polish, and her willingness to endure the media gauntlet....if not with her performance last weekend at California's Auto Club Speedway.
   She does admit she's been a surprised a bit by the sheer numbers of people that follow NASCAR.
   "I didn't really know what to expect (here)....I knew NASCAR was huge, and has a big following, and it definitely has a culture.
   "I just think it's all pretty cool.
   "I'm kind of sad this is the last weekend for a while. I really enjoy this and enjoy driving the cars."
   So her California run apparently is now behind her, psychologically.
   "At times like last weekend, when you have a tough day, and you just don't want anyone to have seen it...it's not that enjoyable," Patrick said Friday during a break during practice for Saturday's 300-miler at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "I'm trying just to forget about that one.
   "You just have to stay true to what makes you happy and what you need, and that's driving a race car.
   "I'm hoping we do have those moments of brilliance during the year where I know what I'm doing.
   "But that will probably come and go, and that's fine.
    "My life right now is really just one day at the time. I don't have the time to pre-plan much, or post-plan. Because I'm always on the go. And if I want to take a day off during the week, I'll just take it."
    And Patrick says she's having fun at this NASCAR thing, "though we had a little struggle at Fontana.
   "I think Tony (Eury) Jr. is learning my style for that first day at the track."
    Patrick is reassessing part of her NASCAR game plan, in the wake of her run last weekend, 31st, three laps down. "Part of the problem is not having goals," she says. "You can't just say I'm going to go as fast as I can, and run up front. That's probably not going to happen at the beginning; there are too many good drivers, and too much to learn.
   "This weekend we're saying 'Well, let's just finish in the top-25....'and I'm feeling more comfortable in the car than I did last weekend."
    And Eury is doing some different things too, she says: "We lowered the steering wheel, and brought it back toward me, to get it like all the other drivers have it....and I went out there and I was freaking out, because I felt like I was driving on top of the car.
   "It was so uncomfortable."
    She says that maybe her upbeat performances at Daytona may have led to some unrealistic expectations.
   "Some of the stuff we did at Daytona was a little bit ahead," Patrick said. "Daytona is flat out, and there is no lifting there.
   "You come to these tracks, you have to be really in tune with the car, because these cars don't really like to do much of  anything...so you have to free the car up."

    The other side of the picture is Danica Patrick, the woman. She insists she has no second thoughts about that FHM magazine pictorial a few years ago, some racy pictures that may have set the stage for her 'brand' as sexy. "I've always felt comfortable with whatever I've done, and had fun with it," she said. "That's just my style. I do things that are interesting and fun....and show a little personality."
    But she concedes some drivers may be grumbling a little about the overwhelming media publicity surrounding her NASCAR runs.
   "But I've done everything I can to be nice and smile, to every single driver I see," she says.
    "I hope that doesn't get in the way of knowing who I really am."
     The fame, the media attention, all that, she says, is okay. "But whether the media is here or not, it's mildly superficial. You have to not read into it too much. I'm grateful for it now; it's great for the sports and for my sponsors. But you can't get too addicted to it, or you'll feel bad when it's gone."
   And that may be in just a few days, because Saturday's Nationwide 300 is to be her last NASCAR race until June at Loudon, N.H.

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       Final practice session for Saturday's Las Vegas 300 Nationwide race




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