LAS VEGAS — In talking about competing for a championship in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year, Danica Patrick admitted Friday that she might have set her expectations at an unrealistic level.
“I definitely feel like I want to do well for so many people,” Patrick said Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, returning to the track for the first time since racing in the 2011 IndyCar Series finale that claimed the life of Dan Wheldon. “I think that I gave myself maybe a little bit of false expectation about running this year for the championship, and probably using those words ‘for the championship.’
“It’s my first-ever full year, and what I’ve done still doesn’t add up to one year, and I didn’t have anything before that at all in stock cars. I think I need to remind myself every now and again of really where the expectation level should be, and where mine should be. And I can’t let all of the exposure and hype and hope — I’m serious when I say ‘hope’ — I can’t let that be something that makes me feel like I have to do well.”
Patrick’s return to Las Vegas brought some strong emotions along with the dose of realism. As she walked through the speedway property — more so than practicing on the racetrack — she thought of the loss the sport suffered last October.
“There won’t be a time that I come to Las Vegas that I won’t think about Dan, and I won’t think about the family and hope that they’re doing well,” Patrick said. “It’s in the moments where you don’t have a singular focus, like walking up to the media center here today, seeing the neon garage, and kind of the atmosphere that was here on that weekend and where we were pitted — the things that we were around and the sights that you saw where you can have time to think about multiple things — that it gets to you.”
Inside the car was another matter.
“I don’t think it completely escapes you, but for the most part, you’re able to have something to focus on, one thing to focus on, and so I feel that I’m able to do that when I’m out on the racetrack,” said Patrick, who was 14th fastest in the first Nationwide practice session.
“(That’s) probably a really good thing, because, especially when you’re trying to get the car to its very limit, you need to be able to focus on that one thing. But, as I said, the thoughts outside the car, being in the surroundings, are when you remember so much.”