Happy trails: Danica Patrick is going to take Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s advice and have fun

Danica Patrick doesn't sound like she spends a lot of time thinking about the pressure that is on her to produce in NASCAR.

She spent Thursday at Texas Motor Speedway talking to reporters about turning 30, having three birthday parties and watching horses on the beach in Mexico.

But she knows she's expected to perform in her first full-time year in the Nationwide Series, which includes tonight's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.

She knows that she is being scrutinized on the big stage of stock-car racing.

The former IndyCar Series star knows there are other drivers who could have her ride.

So when she hears Dale Earnhardt Jr. talk about pressure and how he deals with it -- by enjoying the ride -- she's interested. She hears the word pressure and understands.

"I think that's good advice," she said. "When I would come and do the [NASCAR] races over the last couple of years, it's not like there was no pressure, but I was on such a learning curve, there was going to be good weekends, there was going to be bad weekends. But at the end of the day, it wasn't for a sole championship as one driver. It was a little less pressure for sure."

Patrick is 17th in the Nationwide standings after five somewhat disappointing races.

She began the year on a high note, taking the pole at Daytona. But an early crash knocked her out of the race and left her 38th, and she hasn't finished better than 12th.

This is her third year of running Nationwide races, but this is the first time she's running a full schedule, which means she and her JR Motorsports team are in it for points.

"Coming into this year, knowing that it's for points, knowing that it's really trying to take it to the next level, I do think that I probably put more pressure on myself," she said. "I think that's great advice, to relax, and I'm going to do that this weekend, just have fun with it and do the best I can, hope for the best, take some chances, try to have a good time with it."

Patrick spent the past two weeks away from the track, vacationing in Mexico and northern California. She turned 30 on March 25, the day after finishing 35th at Fontana.

That gave her a chance to relax, but she said the break since Fontana is too much time to be away.

"Too long a break kind of gets you out of the rhythm, but I think given the sort of stretch that was from the week or so before Daytona through California was a big push to start it off, the two weeks was a welcome break. I always feel like breaks are something that gets me sort of excited to get me back at it again, and I think that's what it's done."

But Patrick is eager to get back to business. She has ground to make up after the crash at Daytona and an engine failure at Fontana.

"I'm running for the championship, so I think that pressure got to me a little bit," she said. "What matters is having a good time, having good races, and you don't do that by putting tons of pressure on yourself."

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407

Twitter: @calexmendez

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