DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. —
And right now, she believes her potential is to win "The Great American Race."
Patrick starts first on Sunday, next to four-time champion Gordon, and after running 32 laps in Friday's practice and mixing it up with NASCAR's biggest stars, she was more convinced than ever that she can be a player in the race.
"Can I win? Yeah. Absolutely," Patrick said. "I feel comfortable in this kind of race situation. I feel comfortable in the draft. I feel comfortable that the speeds are not a problem. I know I am inexperienced. I know I am rookie out there. I will do the best job I can to win. I do believe I have a chance to win. I do believe experience would help, but that doesn't mean I don't have a chance to win."
Crew chief Tony Gibson was even more convinced he's got a winner for Sunday. He was part of Derrike Cope's improbable 1990 victory, when Cope inherited the win when the late Dale Earnhnardt blew a tire on the final lap.
" She has got the talent," Gibson said. "She's already proven in the Nationwide Series, from what I've seen on the speedway stuff, she definitely gets the respect. People know she's fast. She can draft. She knows how the air works. She gets a lot of that from IndyCar. So I have 100 percent confidence she can win the Daytona 500.
"I remember Derrike Cope, nobody gave him a chance, either, but I saw him in Victory Lane. I know it can be done."
But the Daytona 500 is a pressure-packed race unlike anything except the Indy 500. Some of the best drivers never win it — it took seven-time champion Earnhardt 20 tries to finally get his lone win — and Tony Stewart, Patrick's teammate and car owner, goes into Sunday's race seeking his first victory in 15 tries.