SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Danica Patrick knew she'd get the questions as soon as she drove into the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- home to some of her greatest career triumphs, the place that launched "Danica-mania."
Can she duplicate her great successes in the Indianapolis 500 (six career top-10s in seven starts and a third-place in 2009) when she competes in NASCAR's Brickyard 400 on Sunday?
Apples. Oranges. Open-wheel versus fenders. It's not a straight-forward nor a fair gauge.
If there's one thing Patrick has learned during this most challenging of rookie seasons, it's to temper expectations. Frankly, it's having expectations, period.
With at a lot more experience in open-wheel and a lot less hype initially, Patrick reminded reporters Saturday that her rookie year in IndyCars was a completely different situation.
"To start with, there are so many more cars here (in NASCAR), if I finished top-20 that meant that I was just in the field in IndyCar,'' Patrick explained Saturday before qualifying. "As far as the overall results, there are significantly different goals (between the two series).
"Probably more so because you get this feeling like you are established and you know what you are doing on some level. You should jump in and be able to do OK, but in IndyCar, I really had no idea at all. So I feel like I have had to establish goals far more in NASCAR than in IndyCar.''
"Baby steps" she likes to say.
"You are competing against a lot of experience and good relationships team-wise, driver/crew chief-wise, familiarity,'' Patrick said. "I think that hoping for top-10s and wins all the time is fairly unrealistic. It's about making realistic goals that you can achieve.''
Her team owner Tony Stewart reiterated to reporters Saturday that he is satisfied with her progress and that's all the approval she needs.
"I asked Tony after Loudon how I was doing and what does he really expect out of me,'' Patrick said. "He said, 'If I saw there being an issue or something that stood out as a problem or an area you needed to work on, I would have come to you already. ... And every time I am behind you, you are doing the right thing.'
"He thinks I am doing a good job. He's the boss."
Patrick will start her No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet from the 33rd position on Sunday's grid -- her worst starting position in eight races (one Nationwide Series and seven IndyCar) at the venerable track.
Patrick is still looking for her first top-10 finish since the season-opening Daytona 500 (eighth). She is always more optimistic at the Brickyard, though joking she hardly remembers the 38 laps she ran in last year's Nationwide Series race at Indy.
"I just remember getting frustrated and it ending my day,'' Patrick said. "But as I've said before many times, it's a special place and it makes me happy to be here.''
And unlike other stops on the Sprint Cup Series circuit, at least at the 2.5-mile speedway she has experience. And typically good karma.
"I think (driving a stock car and an IndyCar) are equally challenging,'' Patrick said. "When you get flat in an IndyCar, it's generally fairly comfortable. But I think building up to that is, grab your gonads and go for it. And I think it's similar in a stock car.
"You know, it's just been some theme with my career that it seems like when the pressure is on, things tend to go better. ''
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