Danica Patrick has no complaints about treatment
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- Danica Patrick is content with how she is being treated on the track in her first full season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, even though crew chief Tony Eury Jr. said she was the target of "dirty tricks," envy and a lack of respect following an incident with Austin Dillon last weekend at Michigan International Speedway.
"For me, as my speed has come up and I'm racing further up the grid, I'm racing against different people now,'' Patrick said. "You've got to earn the respect of the folks you're driving around. It's just a matter of finding the limits with each other and earning that respect."
Eury agrees but said observing tactics and taking names is part of her work-study program as she prepares for a potential full-time Sprint Cup debut in 2013.
"It's just about getting better," Eury said Friday in the garage. "The only thing I tried to do was get a point across to her to pay attention to who's racing you how. As she gets better and as she becomes a better driver, she can race them the same way. She can pull the tricks and the rooting and the gouging and everything that happens. It's one of them deals where it's a learning curve, so we talked about it where it happens and when it happens. That way it's fresh on her mind."
But Eury maintains that jealousy and insecurity in the garage area have made her treatment different from a typical rookie.
"Let's be real," he said. "With as much exposure as Danica has, her being a girl, those kind of things right there, people are like, 'Why is she outrunning me?' First of all, any short track in America, you get beat by a girl and you're going to get ragged by your peers. That's common knowledge. If LeBron James gets dunked by a damned girl off the women's NBA, he's going to get ragged on. I don't care who you are. It's a mentality. It's not a bad thing. It's just part of life."
Dillon said Eury's assertions don't apply to him. Dillon, who helped make Patrick's No. 7 Chevrolet unstable and spin off track by driving so close as to change the way air flowed over her rear spoiler, said he had an amicable conversation with her Friday and wanted to speak with Eury.
"I don't look at myself as a dirty driver by any means," said Dillon, the 2011 NASCAR Trucks Series champion who is second in Nationwide driver points this season. "We go after it every week, hard. Last week, I drove the same as I drove everybody, and I think that's what Danica wants is to be treated the same. I treat everybody the same, and I am going to race everybody hard.
"It's something I've always been taught, and I think she respects that. She told me that when we talked this morning."
Eury called Dillon's move an "old trick," but Dillon said Patrick's spotter could have done a better job of preventing the incident at Michigan.
"Michigan was a fast place, and we got penalized and had to come up through the field," Dillon said. "At the time, we couldn't waste time to come back through there. I was going on, and the people around her could have helped her where I was at. I was really low on the track. I was already under her. She kept coming low, and that's what made it loose."
It was a hard lesson, no matter the cause. Patrick had recovered from a first-lap whirl to run inside the top 10 for portions of the race before Dillon's maneuver on Lap 103 of a scheduled 125 sent her sliding onto the apron. On a final spin with 12 laps left, she was unable to save it, hitting the wall after making contact with Brad Sweet and finishing 18th.
Though Patrick has made good progress this season, Eury said her inexperience at close-quarters racing is a liability both in terms of negotiating traffic and knowing the line between being raced aggressively and sabotaged.
"She has no clue, because in IndyCar you're never within five car lengths," he said of Patrick, who drove seven IndyCar seasons. "That's the problem. That's why I'm telling her all this stuff, because where she's come from, she's never touched. Five car lengths is the closing distance where you pull left and pass. We're still trying to get her to run up within half a car length of somebody and then pull out and go. It's depth perception and about closing racing.
"Eighty percent of the people in the garage grew up short track racing in a Late Model Stock, a Hooters Cup or something like that, and she comes from IndyCar, where it's totally opposite."
Although Patrick has expressed a fondness for the freedom of expression a stock car fender can provide, she is still learning to mitigate the results of contact and, in the case of the Dillon incident, near contact that affects the car the same way.
"You touch wheels in IndyCar, and you're flying," Eury said, "and we're not trying to tell her she has to wreck everybody that she races. That's not the intention here. The intention is to explain to her and get her into a progression of where everybody else is and how you race stock cars, when is a good time to move somebody, when is not a good time to move somebody, when it is not appropriate to race like that and when it is appropriate to race like that."
Until she learns some tricks of her own, Patrick's on-track education will continue.