Danica Patrick: No backup plan for Darlington qualifying
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
FORT WORTH, Texas -- How concerned is Danica Patrick about the possibility of having to qualify on speed at Darlington?
Not enough to have considered a backup plan if the No. 10 Chevrolet she shares with David Reutimann remains outside the top 35 in owner points.
Patrick is scheduled to run 10 Cup races this season. Her first was the Daytona 500, where she fell victim to a crash on Lap 2. Her second scheduled race is the May 12 Southern 500 at Darlington.
When Patrick drives the Cup car, Stewart-Haas Racing prepares it. When Reutimann drives the No. 10 Chevy, the car is fielded by Tommy Baldwin Racing, the idea being that Reutimann will keep the car in the top 35 in owner points and thereby exempt from qualifying on speed.
On April 1 at Martinsville, however, the car fell one position outside the top 35 despite Reutimann's controversial efforts to nurse a wounded car to the finish -- controversial because the car lost power, stopped on the frontstretch and caused a caution that changed the complexion of the race.
Because the No. 10 is only one point behind the No. 83 BK Racing Toyota driven by Landon Cassill, Patrick isn't particularly concerned about her car's owner points position -- for now.
"I feel pretty confident in the car and Tommy Baldwin to get it in the top 35," Patrick said Thursday before practice for Friday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. "They're a great group, and they're working really hard.
"We haven't talked about a backup plan, but there's always that backup plan that, if you have to qualify, that's what you do."
At Darlington, the task of keeping the car in the top 35 rests on Patrick's shoulders, if she hopes to stay exempt from qualifying on speed for the next Cup points on the schedule -- and her third planned start -- the May 27 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
EARNHARDT: I'M NO FORTUNE TELLER
Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn't know if or when he'll win his next Cup race, but he's in a better position to snap a winless streak that has grown to 135 races than he was last year or the year before.
Throughout the drought, however, Earnhardt hasn't felt hounded by the question, "When will you win a race?"
"I haven't really had to answer that question too much," Earnhardt said Friday in the media center at Texas. "People know I'm not Nostradamus, so they don't ask me questions about the future.
"I just feel like we're six points out of the points lead, we're second in points, and we're a competitive team in this sport. I think it's a pretty easy argument to win that we're a better team than we were last year and better than the year before that. So we're getting closer.
"I'm ready to win. I'm ready to go to Victory Lane. I've been working with these guys (the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team), and they've been working so hard, giving me really, really good cars, and they deserve to win races."
Earnhardt won the first Cup race of his career at Texas in 2000, but memories of that day have receded over the years.
"It's really hard to remember 12 years ago," Earnhardt said. "Winning your first race is a great feeling. I've answered this question several times in this room, and it gets harder every time, just because it gets farther away.
"When you win your first race . . . you're just really relieved, because you want to drive cars for a living, and you want to be good at it -- you don't want to struggle your whole life -- so winning that first race really kind of cracks that mold away from all that and gives you a little more clear vision on what your future might be."
No doubt a victory on Saturday night would bring a sense of relief comparable the one Earnhardt felt 12 years ago.
DELAYED CELEBRATION FOR KENSETH
The champion's breakfast for the winner of the Daytona 500 typically takes place the day after the race, but Matt Kenseth had to wait seven weeks for his celebration.
The first rainout in the history of the 500 squeezed the breakfast out of the calendar -- given that teams had to race at Phoenix the following Sunday. The makeup date for Kenseth, who on Feb. 27 won the Daytona 500 for the second time -- was April 11.
Kenseth got to see his winning car, which is on display at the speedway until the next running of the race, for the first time since driving it to Victory Lane.
"Yeah, it was a little different," Kenseth said of his trip to Daytona for what became a celebratory luncheon. "The race got extended a long time, so I guess we're extending all this stuff, too, which is fun. It was really neat to see the car. I haven't seen the car since it left Victory Lane. It is always neat to see that thing sitting there all dirty with all the confetti on it.
"The morning after was really neat in 2009 because all the crew guys could be there. That part of it was more cool then, that part of the experience, but it was neat to come back and relive that and have that feeling when you saw the car again and kind of remember it -- since it has been a couple of months."