Danica Patrick plans to fight for position and payback drivers if need be on track (Getty Images Photo)
SPARTA, Ky. - Danica Patrick is ready to hold her ground and fight back when she's pushed around on the race track.
Patrick has been in the middle of a couple weeks of rough driving by her fellow competitors , which came to a crescendo last Saturday at Road America with a run-in involving Jacques Villeneuve.
Patrick says the only way she can combat that kind of behavior is to fight fire with fire.
"If they do something to you, you need to do it to them to stop it. They can make a decision whether they want to start the ball rolling or not," Patrick said Friday at Kentucky Speedway. "That's sort of what I need to do in my position."
Patrick's plight has caught the attention of others in the garage area including her Sprint Cup teammate Tony Stewart, who believes she's doing a solid job in her first full season of Nationwide competition and chalks up last week to Villeneuve's style.
"I think she is doing just fine," Stewart said. "She got run over by a guy that runs two Nationwide races a year and has hit everything but the pace car religiously every race. Every time everybody gets around that guy they get wrecked so it doesn't matter whether it's her or anybody else.”
Jimmie Johnson remembers back to his rookie campaign and what he went through trying to establish himself against veteran drivers. Johnson agrees the only way to earn respect sometimes is to race people the way the way you are raced.
"It gets better with time and that stuff goes away," said Johnson. "But what's unfortunate is when you're being used up, you then start looking at everything that goes on and you think that it's people taking advantage of you. And this is racing. Sometimes there's just contact; other times you're getting used up and you file that away.
"Again, you take a couple as a rookie and then once you're established and you have a chance to thank people for the respect they showed you previously (laughs), you send that message back to them.”
Patrick has the support of her JR Motorsports boss Dale Earnhardt Jr. who thinks Patrick is perfectly within her right to protect her reputation and position on the race track when challenged by others with contact.
"Me personally when I first started hanging out with her and got to know her even before I raced with her, I knew she wasn't the kind of person you run around pushing buttons with," Earnhardt said. "Some guys don't see it that way I guess and push her around on the race track. She will just have to settle that however she wants.
"There's way to do it. You've got to be careful not to put yourself on their level, or make yourself look like an idiot. You just can't go around pushing people back and spinning people in the wall all the time. You can talk to them people one-on-one or whatever you want to do, however you want to handle it. I think she does a great job. I feel like just being around her in the garage and talking to her as a racer, she doesn't come across to me as a push over and I don't see her that way on the race track. She's already sort of put her foot out a few times with (Sam) Hornish and couple of guys, so she's not afraid to do it."