LONG POND — It wasn’t that her first trip here was that terrible. But Danica Patrick is as anxious to anyone to get another crack at Pocono Raceway.
For one thing, she actually got to run in qualifying this time. For another, her car is already handling much better.
Asked if there was a spot on the track where she noticed improvement, Patrick didn’t miss a beat.
“Yeah,” she said. “When you’re turning the wheel.”
The Sprint Cup novice will start 34th in today’s GoBowling.com 400, hopeful that her experience from June’s race can make a difference.
In her first race at the track, Patrick finished 29th after heavy rain Friday washed out qualifying and took away another chance to get familiar with each distinct turn.
“All I can think about is that we never did any qualifying runs the last time we were here with the weather,” Patrick said. “(This time), all we’ve done so far is qualifying runs, so it’s a very different Pocono this time around. We’re just trying to work with it.
“We fired off OK (in June), and then just seemed like as we tried to increase speed, we were finding some issues that were preventing us from going faster. So we’re trying to keep up with what the car does in qualifying trim. It didn’t end up great, but hopefully it will be good (this time).”
The unique layout at Pocono traditionally causes trouble for drivers new to the circuit. Patrick was no exception.
It’s not enough to get a lesson or two from someone like Tony Stewart, who owns the team they both race for, or to simply try and follow his example in qualifying.
“All three corners are pretty different,” Patrick said. “Definitely in the race, turn 3 is very important because it’s the longest straightaway. In qualifying, turn 2 is very important because it’s so fast.
“I’m looking at what Tony’s doing here and I’m like, ‘I can’t do that!’ Yet. But I’ll keep working on it.”
That about sums up Patrick’s first Cup season thus far. Making the transition from IndyCar to NASCAR in the past two years, she surprised many by winning the pole for the Daytona 500 in her Cup debut and earning a top-10 finish.
It was her best finish in 20 races this season, and she enters the weekend in 26th place in points and largely out of contention for a spot in the Chase.
Learning how to deal with those dips in performance has been one of her biggest challenges this year.
“It’s very hard to not get down when you’re not finishing where you want to, ultimately,” Patrick said. “But there are 42 other people that want to do the exact same thing that you’re doing or that you want to do. You just have to set small goals. That’s the only thing you can do to combat against getting frustrated in the process of where you’re at — set realistic goals.
“Realistic goals are the most important thing. For me, it’s just been top 20 all year. And as soon as I finally start doing that all the time, I’ll adjust some. But for right now and for all year, it’s been (tough).”
Patrick returned to Daytona to open July and finished 14th. But her next two races didn’t go as well, including a 30th-place finish last week in Indianapolis, a track she knows very well.
For now, Patrick said she recognizes her shortcomings and they give her something to work toward.
“I don’t mind when there are things that I have to work on, because it’s something that I can control,” Patrick said. “When you’re doing everything you can and there’s no way to (improve) … then that’s frustrating. So, I understand that I’m a rookie. And I understand that I’m not Tony Stewart and I’m not (teammate) Ryan Newman right now. They’re both extremely accomplished drivers.
“So it’s not shocking me that I have things to work on. So I’ll just keep doing that.”