By Steve Ginsburg
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Danica Patrick is convinced that if "the stars are aligned" she can win the Daytona 500 in her first attempt on Sunday.
The 5-foot-2, 105-pound Patrick said she was emboldened by last year's victory by 20-year-old Trevor Bayne, a rookie who took the checkered flag in just his second Sprint Cup start.
She concedes, however, the list of things that have to go right is long.
"If everything goes right, the stars are aligned, I do my homework and get a comfortable car, and get comfortable with the other drivers on the track, and start earning their respect, and having great racing out there, there's really an opportunity," she told Reuters in an interview Tuesday.
She turned quiet for a moment, pondering the list.
"What more do you expect? It is my first Sprint Cup race ever," she said with a laugh. "It is the Daytona 500 so I have a lot to learn."
Patrick's highly anticipated move from open-wheel racing to NASCAR's top tier is a shot in the arm for the stock-car series, which saw television ratings decline for three straight seasons before showing a modest rise a year ago.
The only woman to win in the IndyCar series compares the switch like moving from a Lamborghini to a van before adding, "Remember, I chose to drive the van."
"Everything is different but it's still racing, which is the same common theme," she said. "So it's still just a race car. But all of your tools are different.
"The racing itself is in much closer quarters, much more bumping, banging and laying on each other. And I really mean laying door-to-door on each other. The racing is tighter."
Patrick plans to race full-time in the Sprint Cup series by 2013, while driving mostly in the second-tier Nationwide Series this season.
As only the third woman to ever start in the Daytona 500, Patrick expects to get her mettle tested.
"Will they trade paint with me? Yeah," she snapped. "And I'm going to do the same to them. From a veteran perspective, they're going to see how far they can push it with me.
"They're going to test the waters. They're going to see if they can get away with pushing me around. My job as a new driver, and a rookie and someone looking for respect is to give it back to them. And that's where the respect is earned."
The 29-year-old Patrick, who flew from Daytona to address the National Press Club before quickly heading back, admitted despite her tough talk she has a lot of normal fears.
"I'm not scared of going 200 miles an hour but I'm scared of heights," she said. "I'm scared of water where I can't see the bottom. I'm scared of bugs. I'm scared of the dark.
"I'm scared of ghosts. I'm scared of simple stuff. Oddly enough when I drive over a bridge, it's a little bit scary... You'd think I'd be relaxed as a racecar driver doing that."
She will not, however, be afraid on Sunday.
"Trevor winning last year was a good confidence boost for someone like me and any other rookie coming into the series looking for a reason to be optimistic," she said.
"There are a lot of things that have to go right to win the Daytona 500. But it is really possible."
(Reporting By Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Frank Pingue)