Notebook: Danica Patrick dialing back expectations for 2012

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.

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."


Brian Vickers' six-race Cup deal with Michael Waltrip Racing raises the prospect of a renewal of the rivalry with Matt Kenseth that came to a head last October at Martinsville -- but Kenseth says that's not likely to happen.

Hard racing at Martinsville led to intentional retaliation on the part of both drivers, and repeated contact between their cars effectively eliminated Kenseth's title hopes. After a conversation at Homestead during championship weekend in November, the drivers had a chance to talk at Daytona, and Kenseth feels they have an understanding.

"I ran into him at Daytona -- that's probably a bad choice of words," Kenseth said Friday at Las Vegas. "I saw him at Daytona, and we talked for a few minutes, nothing about anything racing, but I just saw him in the motor home park.

"But we talked at Homestead, and from my end, I'm not worried about anything there. So I think that's in the past, and I'll kind of leave it there."


Vickers got the MWR deal after Elliott Sadler withdrew at the insistence of full-time Nationwide team owner Richard Childress. Vickers will race twice at Bristol, twice at Martinsville and twice at New Hampshire this season. His MWR debut is set for April 18 at Bristol.


After winning last Sunday's Cup race at Phoenix, Denny Hamlin expressed surprise at the performance of his No. 11 Toyota. Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, who finished sixth, wasn't shocked at all.

"I thought that there would be big things that could come out of JGR this year, and we're already seeing some of the fruits from that with Denny's win in Phoenix," Busch said Friday at Las Vegas. ". . . I congratulate Denny, and it's funny, because we were at our team debrief on Friday (before the Phoenix race), and he was just complaining about how slow he was, he didn't have any speed and this and that and everything else.

"And I said, 'Just shut up. You'll be fine. You'll make it work.' So, obviously, he did, and he was fine."


Juan Pablo Montoya hit the wall on his first lap of practice Friday and will drive a backup car in Sunday's Cup race.

The impact with the outside wall knocked a brake rotor off the car, and the cars of Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton sustained minor damage from the debris.


"It sucks," Montoya said. "It was our first lap. It felt really good in (Turns) 3 and 4 (coming to the start/finish line). I went into 1 and got a little tight over the bumps. So I got on the gas, and it just stepped out on me. I thought, 'My God,' and I was in the fence.

"It sucks. Everybody on this team has been working their butts off. We tested this week, and I thought we made a lot of gains, and the car looked very promising -- but it's still early in the weekend."


Las Vegas Motor Speedway president Chris Powell used the announcement of a pole day sponsorship extension with Stratosphere Casino, Hotel and Tower to underscore his unqualified support for keeping Cup qualifying sessions on Fridays.

Recently, a number of International Speedway Corporation tracks have moved their Cup qualifying sessions to Saturday. Speedway Motorsports properties, including Las Vegas, have not followed suit.

"We have no interest in that at all," Powell said tersely, reaffirming his belief that tracks need to provide meaningful competition on all three weekend days.

In addition, if pole day were folded into Saturday's track activities, which include a Nationwide Series race, Powell, said, there wouldn't be a pole day sponsorship to sell to a partner such as the Stratosphere.

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