Danica Patrick says she still has learning to do

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comMarch 1, 2013 

— Two things were apparent from Danica Patrick’s comments Friday:

First, she doesn’t assume one good race means she’s figured all this out. Two, she doesn’t want to be marginalized by her gender.

Winning the pole and finishing eighth at the Daytona 500 was a measurable sign of progress as she works her way through Sprint Cup competition. But superspeedways like Daytona are the easiest carryover from her open-wheel background. Figuring out a relatively flat, 1-mile track like Phoenix is more of an adjustment.

“I need to keep realistic expectations, and I think everybody else does, too,’’ Patrick said. “We’re going to have great weekends like maybe last weekend. And we’re going to have bad ones. I don’t know where they are going to pop up, but I don’t doubt that they will.’’

She was asked about being one of 13 drivers ever to lead a lap in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. Sounds like that meant more to her than whatever distinguishes her accomplishments as a female driver.

“I hope that when I am done racing, that people remember me as a great driver. And, if they remember me as a great girl driver, that’s fine, too,’’ Patrick said. “I feel like (leading at both Daytona and Indy) is one of those statistics that’s just genderless, and that’s pretty neat for me.’’

Earnhardt disappointed: NASCAR has indefinitely suspended Nationwide driver Jeremy Clements for using racially-insensitive language while speaking with a media member.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., was asked about that punishment and was clearly disappointed in Clements’ lack of judgment, and how that reflects negatively on NASCAR.

“I don’t like it and there’s no room for that in my life,’’ Earnhardt said, adding, “One person’s mistake looks bad on a lot of people and looks bad on the sport.’’

Earnhardt also was asked about NASCAR restricting radio communications between race teams looking to collaborate in drafting situations. He said he was never comfortable with that much collegiality during a race, particularly between the drivers.

“I never liked to have that much access to all the other drivers,’’ Earnhardt said. “I’m a bit old-school in that regard where it just didn’t seem like something that we should be doing.’’

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