Danica Patrick is looking forward to her NASCAR return at New Hampshire Speedway this weekend, although she admits to being nervous about this weekend after being away from the Nationwide Series for more than three months.
The IndyCar star last competed in the series at Las Vegas in April, where on her third NASCAR outing she crashed out of the event following contact with a backmarker, despite showing progress relative to her previous two outings. Back then she was only competing in stock cars, while this time she is set to be switching back and forth between her JR Motorsports Chevy and the nimble Andretti Autosport Honda-powered Dallara for the coming weeks.
Following her race at Loudon on Saturday she will return to the IZOD IndyCar Series next week for round nine at Watkins Glen. After that, she is scheduled to race in the Nationwide series at Chicagoland, then return to IndyCar for the Canadian rounds at Toronto and Edmonton.
Despite doing some NASCAR testing recently at Milwaukee in preparation for her race return, Patrick admits to be uncertain as to what to expect from switching between such different cars over the next few weeks.
"It's really hard to answer how the transition will be, because it's going to be what it is. And it's kind of unknown," said Patrick. "I've started doing more stock cars, and then went to Indy cars. There wasn't much overlap, necessarily. There was some testing, but I've gone back and forth, I guess you could say, between the two. And they're just so different that you get confused, you know?
"So I'm just looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to getting back to the team, to the fans, to the paddock and everybody in it. Everybody was so nice when I first came into the series at the beginning of the year. So I'm just really looking forward to seeing everybody again."
Patrick said her concerns about this weekend's event at Loudon are due to the number of unknown elements she faces in what will be just her fourth stock car outing, and the first on a one-mile oval.
"I'm nervous because it's new and there's so much to learn about the way a race goes, how the race kind of plays out normally, and the yellow flags and the pit stops and how the car changes over a fuel run and how the tires change," said Patrick. "There's just so much that I'm unfamiliar with, and so that makes me nervous because I care and I want to do well. I'm not going to know it all the first time I go there, but I hope to do a good job. So I know that people are watching and I want to put on a good show for the fans. I want to give them a reason to cheer for me.
Following a string of good results in her last three IndyCar races, scoring top-10 finishes at Indy, Texas and Iowa, Patrick is targeting a top-20 finish on her NASCAR return, something she hopes to be able to build on in future outings.
"I think it's probably better for me to say like, you know, I hope this weekend I finish in the top 20 or the top 15, and kind of build myself up," said Patrick. "I didn't really set any expectation levels in the first few races that I did. And I think it would have paid off to do that, even in qualifying, set some expectation levels. I've had a tough time because qualifying is so different in those cars – you never experience the amount of grip or the kind of car that you get in qualifying until you're really in qualifying.
"So that takes some learning. So to say, 'Hey, look, qualifying in the top 20 and maybe finishing in the top 15, that would be great.' And build myself up from there and then, hopefully, one day they'll be the same expectation levels that I have in IndyCar."
Patrick crashed on her Nationwide series outings at Daytona and Las Vegas, while she struggled to a 31st-place finish at Fontana on her second outing.