NASCAR's 2 female drivers not rivals -- or friends
By JOHN ZENOR
TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) Johanna, meet Danica. Danica, Johanna.
Danica Patrick and 19-year-old rookie Johanna Long, NASCAR's two female drivers, compete on the race track in an otherwise male-dominated sport. Someday they might even get acquainted.
"I haven't really met her," Long said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway. "We see each other around the driver (introductions) and we see each other but we haven't really spoken."
Patrick said she knew little about Long other than that "she has a lot of strong qualifying runs."
"She's a really young girl and she just needs to keep at it," said Patrick, who makes her Talladega debut in Saturday's Nationwide Series race.
Long fields plenty of questions about the more experienced driver simply because of what they do share: gender. Patrick, who turned 30 in March, raced in IndyCar and stars in commercials. Long's claim to fame might be winning the 2010 non-NASCAR Snowball Derby in her hometown of Pensacola, Fla.
She gives a sheepish "No" when asked if she considers Patrick a rival.
Patrick, after all, is an IndyCar veteran who's already an established name. Long is still a teenager trying to steer toward a sustained career, with the appropriate humility.
"I really don't like comparing myself to anyone else," Long said. "I'm just another driver out there in a 43-car field.
"I'm trying to build my fan base just like everybody else."
Patrick will start 17th in Saturday's race, seven spots ahead of Long. Because of a qualifying rainout, those slots were set by owners points.
Patrick hasn't done `Dega but she has raced four times at Daytona International Speedway, recording a top-10 finish and twice finishing among the top 15 while leading a total of 16 laps at the other restrictor plate track.
She won the pole in this season's opening Nationwide race in Daytona, but was caught up in a first-lap wreck.
Patrick figures the even-broader track at Talladega will make for plenty of excitement with some four- and even five-wide racing.
"That's probably going to make it even more exciting," she said. "You're going to see a lot more moving around even, if that's even possible coming from Daytona."
Patrick was already enjoying the atmosphere of the weekend-long party in Talladega's famed infield, sporting a necklace of large, multicolored beads in the media center.
"When I talked about coming to Talladega, it's just as much of an excitement level for me to see the fans and get a feel for the atmosphere as it is for driving the car," Patrick said. "The atmosphere is something really unique. It's definitely one of those tracks that I was looking forward to coming to for more reasons than racing. It's going to be fun.
"I've already got my beads, so what next? More beads?"
Updated May 4, 2012