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Danica Patrick qualifies to race at Daytona

PHOENIX - The first woman to win an IndyCar race, Danica Patrick was an established icon on the open-wheel circuit when, a year ago, she decided to give stock cars a try on a part-time basis.

Unfamiliar with the heavier, bulkier cars in the Nationwide circuit, Patrick went through a sometimes-difficult rookie season filled with back-of-the-pack finishes. Insisting she wasn't stretched too thin trying to run in two circuits, she kept plugging away in the Nationwide series, gaining comfort and confidence with each race.

Even though her average finish in 13 races was 28th, she closed strong, qualifying 14th before being wrecked with what appeared to be a Top-15 car in California and ending the season with a 19th at Homestead.

With Daytona, the first of her four opening Nationwide races, Patrick is ready to hit the gas again.

"I feel a lot more comfortable," she said. "I'm continuing to understand the limits of the car. I still have a lot to learn, it's still pretty new. I've got about a third of a season under my belt, but definitely better off than I was last year, so I'm looking forward to it."

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