It is not really a surprise that she was relatively quick, qualifying 12th in the grid just half a second off pole, since her best IndyCar races have been on super speedway type tracks. Patrick knows how to run in the draft, drive efficiently and carry speed through the corner, all basic requirements for big oval success.
The big test will be how she handles being in the middle of 43 stock cars, rubbing fenders and banging wheels for 200 miles at those speeds. Driving fast is not the only key to NASCAR success; being able to anticipate trouble – and avoid it – is just as important. That will be the part that will come slowly, and probably frustratingly, for Ms Patrick. She has the basic driving chops, now she has to prove she has the race craft.
Lost in all the “Danica-mania” is the fact that disgraced Formula One refuge, Nelson Piquet Jr out-qualified Patrick in his first visit to a super speedway. With just a Craftsman Truck test under his belt, the Brazilian qualified 7th. Piquet will certainly have his work cut out during the race, as he tries to learn the nuances of drafting and oval racing strategy while trying to avoid tangling with young guys brought up on the rough and tumble world of quarter midgets and dirt tracks.
My prediction for today’s race? Piquet will get punted into the wall about half-distance after running in the 20th-30th spots. Patrick will bring it home in the 10th-15th place range…and no one will remember who won the race by Sunday.