Chicagoland Speedway is about the closest thing Danica Patrick has to a home track in NASCAR.
Although the 1.5-mile oval on the outskirts of Chicago’s southwest suburbs in Joliet, Ill., didn’t play a part in her early racing career – it didn’t open until 2001 – it’s only about 100 miles away from her hometown of Rockford, Ill.
That means she’ll have plenty of family and friends here for today’s NASCAR Nationwide race.
“As a kid, I loved going into the city, downtown Chicago,” Patrick said before Saturday’s practice. “It’s a beautiful place. I know we’re a little bit away from there, but I’ve got some friends coming out to the track this weekend, so it’ll be a couple extra people than normal. But it’s close to home, and that’s good, and I’ll see a few familiar faces.”
And based on her 10th-place run last June, she’ll also have a shot at a pretty good finish. Patrick was second-fastest in Saturday afternoon’s final practice session.
As Patrick continues her transition from IndyCar to NASCAR, she said she’s most comfortable on intermediate-length tracks with banked turns such as Chicagoland.
Although racing a stock car is much different than racing an IndyCar at any track, Patrick said the way a stock car handles on a track such as Chicagoland is the most similar sensation to what she experienced in Indy racing.
In addition to running a full Nationwide Series schedule this season, she’s also running part-time in the Sprint Cup Series. She recently added a track that’s similar to Chicagoland – Kansas Speedway – to her Sprint Cup schedule.
“For me, I feel like mile-and-a-half, bigger tracks, and the higher-grip tracks of those, I feel like there’s just a little bit more of a similarity to where I came from,” Patrick said. “With the way that it loads up in the corner and the way that you can feel car pick up G-forces in the corner and you can feel the (suspension) load. As opposed to the slippery or flatter tracks, slower tracks.”
Patrick acknowledges that she isn’t yet as comfortable at short tracks or tracks without banking. But she said she felt better when Kasey Kahne, a fellow driver from an open-wheel background, told her that he had a tough time learning flat tracks as well – not that it showed much last week, when Kahne won the Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire.
“It didn’t really show that he struggles at short tracks, just because of the fact that he won,” Patrick said. “But he said that they took the longest for him to get used to as well. Both of us kind of having our open-wheel backgrounds, I think that it was almost a relief sometimes to hear, to understand a little bit more why the short tracks are a little bit harder.”
Hunter-Reay fastest qualifier
IndyCar Series points Ryan Hunter-Reay bounced back from a rough opening day at Edmonton, Alberta, with a pole-winning run.
Hunter-Reay went into the qualifying session knowing he’ll be penalized 10 spots on today’s starting grid for an unapproved engine change.
Hunter-Reay has won the past three IndyCar races to move into the points lead. He’s the first American since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 to lead the IndyCar standings, and he takes a 34-point lead over Will Power into today’s race.
Dario Franchitti will start on the pole because of Hunter-Reay’s penalty.
Buescher wins trucks race
James Buescher took the lead from Timothy Peters on the last lap, then held off a charge from Brendan Gaughan to win the NASCAR Truck Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.