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Posted at 03:36 PM ET, 02/22/2012

Danica Patrick gears up for Daytona 500 debut


Here comes Danica. (Brian Blanco - Reuters)
Danica Patrick has never been one to shy away from the spotlight. And from IndyCar Series races to flesh-filled GoDaddy.com Super Bowl ads, the spotlight seems to follow her wherever she goes.

All eyes will be on Patrick once again on Sunday when she makes her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut at the Daytona 500..

“I think that if I had not experienced all the media crazy around this whole part of things it would have been somewhat overwhelming,” Patrick said. “My whole (public relations) team knows how it works and how to organize everything so it’s done effectively and efficiently.

“But I feel good — let’s not forget I’ve been exposed to the Indy 500, which is one of the biggest races in the world, if not the biggest race in the world, and there’s lots of media around that, too, and lots of hype.”

But while fans anxiously await the green flag on Sunday, NASCAR is even more excited to finally have Patrick on board full time.

“I hope it’s something like Tiger Woods, where we get more and more people to watch the sport,” Gene Haas, the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing told ESPN during Patrick’s qualifying lap in her No. 10 Chevrolet. “Obviously, Tiger was a man in a man’s sport. She’s a woman in a man’s sport. If she can just hold her own, I’ll be impressed.”

Patrick will compete in 10 Sprint Cup races for Tony Stewart this year while racing for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series. And NASCAR is already seeing results. An Associated Press report cited Nielsen Company ratings showing a 9 percent ratings boost for the 13 Nationwide events in which Patrick drove in 2010. And through last week, she already ranked in the top 10 in 2012 merchandise sales.

But don’t expect Patrick to use her new cash flow on high-end automobiles. She recently told Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports that she sold the Lamborghini Gallardo she bought in 2007.

“The last straw was probably having to pick up my sister at the airport in a Lamborghini,” Patrick told Wetzel. “I couldn’t have felt more stupid. I’m serious. I felt so stupid. She’s got bags. I don’t have a trunk. I’ve got a briefcase-sized spot in the front of the car. I have no space.”

Patrick knows space will also be at a premium on the track Sunday when she returns to pack racing in the wake of a crash-filled Budweiser Shootout that saw 22 of 23 cars damaged.

“I feel like I’m tapping into my childhood again when I got back to the years when I had bumpers, and I could get aggressive,” Patrick told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. “And it gets my blood boiling in a good way.”

More from Washington Post Sports:

All eyes on Patrick as she prepares for first Daytona 500

As pack racing returns to Daytona, NASCAR sets stage for exciting season-opening race

By  |  03:36 PM ET, 02/22/2012

 
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