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|Danica Patrick says that without taking breaks, she'd get burned out; she's refreshed and eager to get back into the car in Texas.|
In the 20 days since she hauled herself out of a broken race car at Auto Club Speedway, Danica Patrick has been busy. She turned 30, reunited with the guide of her offseason South African safari, threw a pool party at her home in Phoenix -- "the special punch was lovely" -- successfully executed a girls' night out, laid on the beach and cruised on a boat in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and took in some exquisite vistas and vintages in Northern California around another surprise birthday party.
A benevolent schedule for this week's Texas Motor Speedway Nationwide Series race didn't require her presence until Thursday afternoon.
At no point during her extremely refreshing but happily concluded birthday festival, she said, did she worry about having to qualify for the May 12 Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway.
The prospect of such a difficult task arose somewhere between finishing off "quite the suntan" and an Easter celebration with friends. During that time, David Reutimann, who squires the No. 10 Chevrolet in the 26 Sprint Cup races not run by Patrick, stalled on the track in the final laps at Martinsville Speedway, attempting fruitlessly to retain a top-35 spot in points that would guarantee entry into the ensuing Cup race. Reutimann not only failed with the damaged car, he also fouled up at the end of the race and became a pariah.
|Danica Patrick is confident she won't need to qualify for her next Sprint Cup race, at Darlington on May 12.|
Tommy Baldwin Racing, which fields the car in collaboration with Patrick's Stewart-Haas Racing team, and Reutimann have four races before Patrick resumes her 10-race Cup schedule. Patrick said she is confident she will not have to qualify. She said there are no contingencies currently to assure the start.
"I am confident," she said. "It's a good driver and Tommy is working really hard. I am sure that any help that they ask for out of Stewart-Haas, they are going to do for them and get them on their way. Everyone wants to see the car in the top 35 and make the road easier. But if it doesn't, it doesn't."
Reutimann has driven Tommy Baldwin Racing equipment with Earnhardt-Childress engines, while Patrick's cars use leased Hendrick Motorsports chassis and engines.
Patrick's Nationwide crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., said it would be "very hard" for her to qualify a Cup car in her first visit to Darlington, and that the endeavor would interfere with much of the work she needs to accomplish in the No. 7 Nationwide car.
"I think that it's something that I, of course, hope I don't have to do," Patrick said. "But at the same time, if I do, I'm a race car driver and I'm prepared to do that, and it's a bridge I'll cross if it happens.
"... The problem is, if you have to qualify, you clearly need the experience and you end up doing a lot of practice qualifying and not a lot of practice with the race car. That's kind of the bummer, that you'll have to put the focus on two laps [of qualifying] as opposed to 200 or 300."
Either way, Patrick said she has returned fresh after a disappointing start to both her first full Nationwide season and her Sprint Cup career; she was involved in an early incident and finished 38th in the Daytona 500. Patrick is 17th in Nationwide Series points after a piece of metal debris pierced her car and destroyed her motor in a 35th-place finish at Fontana, Calif.
While some drivers mentally cleanse by driving in other series or regimens in their spare time, Patrick prefers the complete escape her success can afford. She returns rejuvenated, she said.
"I think when I get away I sort of get away from being judged, in a way," she said. "There's no more test. It's over with. You can get away and not have to be so on. I think, most importantly, it helps me to get excited to get back in the car. I think that time away gets me excited again. This is the 21st year of racing for me. Without the breaks, I would end up getting burned out. Everyone is different. It's whatever works for you."