Danica Patrick couldn't quite believe what was happening Thursday evening.
There she was, riding in a golf cart, taking a tour of the city's new 2.03-mile temporary street course, trying to get a feel for the new track that will host Sunday's inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, when all at once she found herself in the middle of rush hour traffic.
"If I was in a car, I think I would have been pretty ticked off," Patrick said. "The light changed and they sent us right into the traffic. I thought, 'Wow, we're going out with the traffic.' At one light, a guy was on a bicycle, and he was striking up a conversation and wanting to know my cell phone number and address. He didn't get that. But there were lots of fans out there, and they seemed really excited."
Patrick is one of the most popular drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series, and she'll be one of the most-watched drivers at this weekend's Grand Prix. The desire to see her race in IndyCars has spiked this week, because she recently announced she'll be leaving the series at the end of the season for a ride in NASCAR.
To this point, in her seventh season in the series, she has managed one win and three pole positions. Her highest career points finish was fifth in 2009. This season she's had one top five finish and seven top 10s and stands 12th in the driver standings. Friday afternoon she said she will be leaving the series with no regrets about anything left unfinished.
"I feel happy that I don't have to skirt the issue any more," Patrick said. "I'm relieved you don't have to ask those questions over and over again, and that I don't have to answer them. ... I did everything I could in IndyCar. I don't want to leave you guys thinking I have something left to do, or that I have unfinished business. I did everything I possibly could do while I've been in IndyCar. I put in every amount of effort possible to perform well. I did all I could do. I got everything there was to get out of the cars I've driven. I suppose, in generalities, if I could have won every single race, that would have been wonderful."
As she's coming down to the end of this her last IndyCar season for the foreseeable future, she admits it would be "great to win one." She believes her best chance at that will come at Kentucky (Oct. 2) or Las Vegas (Oct. 16). But she's not counting herself out here, on a street course that is new to everyone.
"Anything can happen on a street course," she said.
And Friday, many unusual things did.
"I was sitting down to breakfast in my robe and then I stayed in my robe for another four hours," she said, referring to the delayed start of practice sessions Friday. "This is a first event, and there are always unexpected things that happen. Traffic, pit lane issues, railroad tracks. But I think they've done a great job to get to this point. Next year they'll do the little tweaks."
One of the things she sees changing in the future is pit road, which runs in front of the B&O Warehouse. Pit road here is short on space and unique. Two cars, Patrick's and Ed Fisher's will pit on the left side while everyone else pits on the right. Directly across from her will be Vitor Meira. Patrick's teammate Mike Conway will be behind him.
"It's a product of there not being nearly enough space [on pit road]," Patrick said. "You know that, too, because Will [Power] is pitted all the way down at the end and there is barely any room between him the end of pit road. There's hardly any room between him and pit out. It's very much a 90 degree corner ... but it might work out, because I go out into the fast lane and everyone else has to blend out and I'll already be there. Maybe it'll be good."
Street courses are tricky. Patrick can tell you about an experience in Detroit where she started in the back, moved to the top 10, fell all the way back and finished second.
"A lot goes on in street racing," she said. "There's no room for error on street courses. So if you make a mistake and touch the wall, you're out of the race. Sometimes it's survival of the fittest and the smartest and the one who takes care of the car. So there's no reason why Baltimore can't be a great race for me, because finishing and being smart are in my nature."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun