- Brant James, Contributor, espnW.com
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Nearly halfway through her first full season in the Sprint Cup Series, Danica Patrick is unsure if a busier Nationwide Series schedule this year would burnish her development at NASCAR's top level.
There are areas in which she would have benefited, she said, but also areas in which a proposed 10-race slate might have detracted from a season in which she is 27th in driver points with one top-10 in 17 races, crew chief Tony Gibson said.
Patrick had entered both Nationwide races yearly at Daytona International Speedway since 2011 but will not participate Friday. The cost will not so much be experience at a style of racing she has most quickly grasped but rather, she said, "an opportunity for me to go out there and grab a trophy."
She has never finished better than fourth in a NASCAR race -- in 2011 at Las Vegas -- but trophies have seemed most within reach at Daytona.
In six Nationwide races at the 2.5-mile restrictor-plate track, since 2010, Patrick has a pole and a best finish of 14th but has led laps in five of the races. Patrick has two starts in the Daytona 500, winning the pole in February, leading five laps and finishing eighth, a career best in Cup. She was third on a final restart before being shuffled out of the draft and the top five.
Patrick will make her first start in a summer Daytona Cup race Saturday. While time on track could be beneficial, the oddities and seeming randomness of action and reaction at plate races might not make another start at Daytona much of a learning experience.
"I think when the bump-drafting went away, it's a little bit different, at least in Cup, because it's pack racing versus these big runs with bump-drafting in Nationwide," Patrick said. "I think they are a fair amount different."
Sponsorship needs are part of the reason Patrick has contested just two Nationwide races this season, both as an added car for Turner Scott Motorsports. Go Daddy, her primary car sponsor since 2010, when she began the transition from IndyCar to NASCAR, backed her entry at Daytona and was a co-sponsor at Talladega Superspeedway, another restrictor-plate track. Chief marketing officer Barb Rechterman said her company "wanted to support Danica and the Go Daddy team in the ways that made the most sense for her and her career. This year, Danica wanted to focus on Sprint Cup, so that's where we are."
Patrick had raced her first 58 Nationwide events over parts of three seasons with JR Motorsports, but the team redirected its resources this season into points leader Regan Smith in Patrick's former No. 7 Chevrolet and a bevy of part-time drivers in other cars. Richard Childress Racing vice president of competition Mike Dillon said in November his team was interested in fielding a partial program for Patrick, but logistical problems -- including commitments to other drivers in races Patrick's management team was interested in -- proved unwieldy.
I think that racing the Nationwide car helped me race the Cup car a little better, but now, after I've got a lot of Cup experience, would I think the same thing? I'm not exactly sure.
"-- Danica Patrick
"In an ideal world, I think we would have done more this year, but it is a lot of work going back and forth," Patrick said. "I think being around [the Cup team] is compromised when you're doing both. It would probably help, but you have to have sponsors to do that. Maybe it's something that will be easier in the future. Maybe not. Maybe we worked on it too late. I don't know. We definitely went around the town with teams last year, with staying with Junior. Doing something different kind of delayed us. In the future, yeah, doing a few would be helpful for sure."
Patrick said that although practicing in a Cup car was more difficult after Nationwide practice because "holy crap, you're going so much faster," experience with how a car adjusted to changes mechanically and with the track was beneficial.
"I think that racing the Nationwide car helped me race the Cup car a little better, but now, after I've got a lot of Cup experience, would I think the same thing? I'm not exactly sure," she said. "I feel like I'm really getting to know the Cup car and feeling what it's doing much more accurately and am much better at being able to pinpoint that for Tony so he can make better changes."
Patrick said she didn't think driving more Nationwide races would disrupt her efforts on the Sprint Cup side, but Gibson said he prefers her focus to be singular, even on weekends when the series race at the same venue in so-called "companion" events.
"For her, driving the same car every week, focusing on this balance is going to be huge for us," he said. "And right now, we need every lap on the racetrack we can get. We don't need any distractions. We sat down at the beginning of the year and looked at six or eight races she wanted to do -- companion -- we thought would help us, whether it was a track we haven't run on yet and she needs more time on it, and we picked those races.
"It's been a thought-out deal. We had 10 picked out. I think not doing a lot of companion races will pay dividends for us."
Danica Patrick has had success on the 2.5-mile restrictor-plate track at Daytona. Then why is the Sprint Cup rookie sitting out Friday night's Nationwide Series race at the famed facility?