NORMAN — By John Marshall
AVONDALE, Ariz. — Danica Patrick had already built quite a following from her IndyCar days, with a big assist from all those television commercials and magazine layouts.
The Daytona 500 took Danicamania to a new, frenzied level.
But now that the Daytona dust has settled, it’s time for Patrick to dig in for the rest of the season, her first full one in a Sprint Cup car.
“I need to keep realistic expectations and everyone else does, too,” Patrick said from Phoenix International Raceway, the next stop on the Sprint Cup schedule. “Daytona is a very unique place and this is kind of where the bulk of the season starts.”
The real start to the season came last weekend at the Daytona 500, where Patrick became the first woman to win the pole at a Sprint Cup race and to lead green-flag laps.
Attention for one of auto racing’s most popular drivers reached a fever pitch in Daytona, her face all over the news, everyone watching her every move, the daughters of a few of her fellow drivers wanting the opportunity to meet NASCAR’s biggest draw.
Patrick handled it all well, thanks, in part, to having been through it before at the Indianapolis 500 in 2005.
“I feel like now days, having the experience that I had in IndyCar and understanding how media works, what it’s like to be busy and do a lot of interviews and things outside the car, and also building a great team helps me manage and tolerate all of that is very different than it was back in 2005,” Patrick said.
She wasn’t bad on the track, either, leading five laps and entering the final lap in third. Patrick faded as the field turned toward the checkers, dropping to eighth as a handful of veteran drivers dropped to the inside lane and passed her.