DAYTONA BEACH — Despite calling the world of NASCAR a relative "crashfest," Danica Patrick said Thursday that she is not afraid of more contact and would like to see more side-by-side racing in IndyCar.
Patrick makes her stock-car debut in Saturday's ARCA race and is considering a more high-profile spot in the Nationwide series opener here Feb. 13.
"If somebody does something to me that I don't like, you have to expect that you get something in return. And I have fenders now, so that's pretty exciting," Patrick said before a media throng normally reserved for the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. "I plan to respect everybody from the start, and if they give me a reason to not respect them, then I won't."
Patrick has run tests in stock cars but said she's not sure how she'll take the relative close confines of stock-car racing, which is a crowded elevator compared to her IndyCar background.
"You run so much closer in these cars," she said. "In IndyCar, a couple of car lengths back, you're as close as you're going to get. (It's) a half a car length in these cars, (and) you feel a little claustrophobic being that close to a car turning into a corner."
FINALLY Favored: Jimmie Johnson isn't necessarily happy about it, but after four straight Sprint Cup titles, he has been picked in a preseason poll by media covering NASCAR as the favorite to win this year's Cup. The last time Johnson was picked to win was the last time he didn't win, before the 2005 season.
"I think it might be a curse," he said. "We'll see how it turns out. It's a great honor, and I'm excited to see it. It's great until we hit the track, and then you have to prove you are the guy. It's cool for preseason hype."
NOT THAT GUY: Johnson was asked, should he forget how to drive a stock car, whom would he specifically not like to learn from. He paused a second, then pointed to Sam Hornish, who sent him into the wall at Texas Motor Speedway in November, putting his championship in jeopardy.
"Probably Sam Hornish," Johnson said. "He hits way too much stuff, including me, at important times of the year. And still to this day, has never said a word about it. I wish he'd just come up to me and say, 'Hey, I meant to crash you.' … The guy doesn't talk. He doesn't say anything."
A PR BOOST: To say the least, some drivers, including Zephyrhills native David Reutimann, would like to give Toyota some good news with some wins in a Toyota-built car. Not that his Sprint Cup car is having any problems with the gas pedal, which has forced the company to recall millions of vehicles. "Toyota's definitely going to get all those situations fixed; that's just what Toyota does," he said. "If they have a problem, they fix it, and they'll be better because of it."
MRS. Petty DIAGNOSIS: Lynda Petty, wife of seven-time champion Richard Petty, was diagnosed with central nervous system lymphoma. The Petty family said she will be treated at Duke University Medical Center and they are "very optimistic" it will be successful.
Pit stops: Jeff Gordon and his wife, Ingrid, are expecting their second child in August; daughter Ella is almost 3. Coincidentally, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson and his wife, Chandra, are expecting their first. … Contact between Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin triggered a seven-car accident in the first practice session for this weekend's Budweiser Shootout. NASCAR has relaxed its rules on bump-drafting and given drivers the okay to be more aggressive. "Trust me, we're not finished," said Greg Biffle, who was involved in the wreck. Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer also were part of the melee. In a draw later, Carl Edwards won the pole for Saturday night's exhibition race. Kevin Harvick, who was replaced for the practice by Clint Bowyer because of flulike symptoms, got the second spot (Lineup, 5C).
Times staff writer Brian Landman and Times wires contributed to this report.