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July 7, 2015

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NASCAR:

Citing familiarity with track, Danica Patrick looks for breakthrough in Vegas

Coming off of crash last week, Patrick continues Sprint Cup campaign

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

Danica Patrick attends NASCAR testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Thursday, March 7, 2013.

2013 NASCAR Hauler Parade on the Strip

A Japanese tourist, right, takes photos during a parade of NASCAR haulers on the Las Vegas Strip Wednesday, March 6, 2013.  The NASCAR hauler parade traveled north on the Las Vegas Strip to Sahara Avenue, then on I-15 to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Launch slideshow »

Although it’s her first year as a full-time driver on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Danica Patrick displays no lack of confidence.

Patrick thinks she’s faster than several veterans and, for this week at least, sharper than local oddsmakers. Told Las Vegas sports books set her over/under finishing position at 25th for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Patrick responded emphatically in a press conference Friday afternoon.

“I would bet on myself,” Patrick said without flinching. “I was running there last year when I had even less of an idea what was going on and didn’t have a full-time effort.”

Patrick-mania is sweeping town again with the city’s annual NASCAR weekend. Much like three years ago when Las Vegas was one of the only stops on her maiden voyage through the Nationwide tour, Patrick is the focal point as a rookie on the more-prestigious Sprint Cup circuit.

She’s had mixed results through two early-season races. After winning the pole position at the Daytona 500 two weeks ago, she finished an encouraging seventh. Last week’s race at Phoenix went less swimmingly, as Patrick lost a tire and crashed into the wall on the 176th lap. In the end, she came in 39th place.

“My neck was sore after last weekend for sure, which it’s never been sore after a wreck,” Patrick said.

But Patrick believes she’s in position to bounce back Sunday. Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a venue where she’s always felt at ease.

Patrick recorded her career best finish in a NASCAR race here two years ago, coming in fourth in the Sam’s Town 300 Nationwide event. She followed that by finishing in 12th in the Nationwide race last year.

The aforementioned debut in 2010 was the only time Patrick left the speedway unhappy, as she wrecked her car on the 84th lap of the day.

“I feel like every time I’ve been here, we run pretty decent,” Patrick said.

Drivers say that comfort with a racetrack is important, especially one with a personality as unique as Las Vegas’.

“Fast, high-bank racetrack with some real challenges,” Jeff Gordon described. “That’s what competitors love. They love a good challenge. The competition brings that in itself. That seems to always come out here.”

A couple of NASCAR’s top drivers have appeared to master Las Vegas. Jimmie Johnson has taken the checkered flag in four of the last eight years.

Carl Edwards has won twice here in that same span and enters Sunday fresh off of a victory in the Subway 500 last weekend in Phoenix.

“I know this is probably wrong to admit, but I didn't really have Phoenix marked on the calendar as the one that we were going to go win the first race,” Edwards said. “I was looking at Vegas as the race that would be the really good one.”

There will be no shortage of stiff competition standing in Patrick’s way. But she’s not intimidated.

She’d even put money on herself to place in the top 25.

“I would, but I think even the best of us can have bad weekends,” Patrick said. “They happen.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or case.keefer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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