Weekend Preview: Danica Patrick sees opportunity at Daytona

Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick

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 open-wheel 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 registered three runner-up finishes and 22 top-five showings since his last win 61 starts ago at Indianapolis (2014).

RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 25:  Ty Dillon, driver of the #3 WESCO Chevrolet, takes part in pre-race ceremonies during the NASCAR Nationwide Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway on April 25, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
RICHMOND, VA – APRIL 25: Ty Dillon, driver of the #3 WESCO Chevrolet, takes part in pre-race ceremonies during the NASCAR Nationwide Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway on April 25, 2014 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

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.”

NASCAR Race Weekend Guide

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Race: Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola

Place: Daytona International Speedway

Date and Time: Saturday, July 2 at 7:45 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400 miles (160 laps)

What to Watch For: Tony Stewart goes for his second straight win, and the 50th of his career, at Daytona. … Dale Earnhardt Jr. eyes his fifth career Daytona win. He leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with a 13.4 average finish at the 2.5-mile track. … Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin attempts to become the sixth driver to sweep the races at The Birthplace of Speed. He’d join Jimmie Johnson (2013), Bobby Allison (1982), LeeRoy Yarborough (1969), Cale Yarborough (1968) and Fireball Roberts (1962) as the only drivers to achieve the feat. … Brad Keselowski, who owns four victories at restrictor-plate tracks, tries to win his first race at Daytona. … Kurt Busch looks to extend his series-leading streak of 10 top-10 finishes.


Race: Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola

Place: Daytona International Speedway

Date and Time: Friday, July 1 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 250 miles (100 laps)

What to Watch For: In a show of appreciation for the United States Armed Forces, NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers will bear the names of active military units and installations on their race car windshields throughout the weekend as part of NASCAR: An American Salute. … Daniel Suarez attempts to extend his 21-point advantage over Elliott Sadler in the series standings. … Austin Dillon looks to win the July Daytona race for the second straight season. His Richard Childress Racing team boasts six Daytona victories. … Chase Elliott eyes a sweep of Daytona after winning the February XFINITY Series race.

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for Examiner.com and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.