Published Saturday, Feb 16, 2013 at 2:36 pm EST
Patrick will attempt to make NASCAR’s biggest race Sunday to start her first full Sprint Cup season. She started 29th and finished 38th in last year’s Daytona 500 after being swept into a wreck on the second lap.
Even after running last year’s race, Patrick isn’t sure what she needs to do to make sure she is in the Daytona 500 field.
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She’s not alone. While not as confusing as in the past, the qualifying procedure for the Daytona 500 is different than any other race.
All Patrick knows is that she needs to perform on either Sunday or Thursday or she is in jeopardy of not making the season’s biggest race.
With only 45 cars entered, she likely will get in, but even a driver such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not guaranteed a starting spot.
“I have absolutely no idea how qualifying works,” Patrick said Thursday during a rare break from questions about her romance with fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. “Does anyone? I think I was actually sent like a long email with the way that qualifying works. I didn't read it.
“Because you're just going to drive as hard as you can, right? What else am I going to do? I have got to qualify in the top two or top six, whatever it is. You're going to go as fast as you possibly can and deal with it afterwards.”
The Daytona 500 field is set through a mix of qualifying speed on Sunday and results from the two 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday.
The front row (the top two starting spots) is set by qualifying speed on Sunday. Patrick will go out eighth among the 45 drivers vying for 43 starting positions.
Spots 3-32 will be set by the qualifying races Thursday. The top 15 finishers in each race, not including the drivers already locked into the front row, will fill spots 3-32.
The next four spots (33-36) will go to the four remaining drivers with the best qualifying speeds.
Positions 37-42 will then go to the remaining drivers based on 2012 owner points. The 43rd spot is reserved for a past Cup champion. If all past champions are already in the field, then there is another spot available based on 2012 owner points.
Patrick’s Stewart-Haas Racing team has the points that are 42nd among the 45 drivers entered for the Daytona 500 through a deal with Robinson-Blakeley Motorsports.
So there is a slight chance she could still get a provisional as long as two of the following three drivers — Scott Speed, Mike Bliss and Brian Keselowski — don’t qualify on speed or through the qualifying races.
There also is the chance she could miss the race. The only drivers guaranteed spots are the top six in 2012 owner points (Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin) and Tony Stewart (2011 champion).
Patrick has made the transition from IndyCar driver to Sprint Cup the last four years. She spent 2010 and 2011 running a part-time Nationwide schedule and then went full time in 2012 by running the complete Nationwide schedule and 10 Cup races.
“I'm excited,” Patrick said. “I think of all the years I've competed at a top level, I feel like I'm most excited for this season.
“I really am. I think it's going to be a fun season. I think it's going to be a great season.”
Patrick had a best finish of 17th in her 10 Cup races last year. She was 10th in the Nationwide Series final standings.
“Driving stock cars, it's really fun to me,” Patrick said. “The racing is really fun to me. While I get nervous, it's something I really care about, I want to do really well.
“For some reason I have more excitement than I do so much nerves.”
It wasn’t that way for Patrick when she was racing in IndyCar.
“I always felt like there was a lot of pressure and I felt like every lap was on the edge,” Patrick said. “The racing was getting really dicey at the end. People were just all over the place and I felt nervous going into that.
“Now I just feel excited. I feel a little nervous but definitely more excited.”