Danica Patrick: The Art of Racing in a Man's World

PHOTO: Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, stands on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Great Clips 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, Nov. 10, 2012 in Avondale, Arizona.
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Even though walking red carpets and accepting awards have become familiar territory for former model Danica Patrick, she is most comfortable going 200 miles per hour with as many as 42 men chasing her down.

Patrick is the only female driver to ever race full time in NASCAR's multi-million dollar Sprint Cup series, bringing attention to a sport with a predominantly-male fan base and firm Southern roots.

"My mom and my dad were probably responsible for why I race cars and why I like it," Patrick said in an interview with ABC's "Nightline." "My dad used to race. They actually met at a racetrack."

Following in the family footsteps, Patrick started racing at age 10 in Wisconsin, but said she never thought about being the only girl out there when she started out.

"It was really just about being the fastest driver," she said.

Now 31, the racing pioneer has continued to grab headlines and national attention. Last weekend, she took on fellow driver David Gilliland, who she said tried to cut her off during their Sunday race at the Kansas Speedway.

"He tries to take me out every time," Patrick said over her team radio. "Tell his spotter that I'm coming after him if he does it again. In fact, I might just do it right now."

After the race, in which Gilliland finished 23rd and Patrick finished 25th, Gilliland responded in a statement, saying, tell her to "shut up and race."

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Being the representative female face in a male-dominated sport comes with daily pressure, but Patrick said she doesn't let it bother her.

"I try to put my best face on," she said. "I don't think about it because there is nothing I can do but be myself. ... I just see it as an opportunity to do something new and different, and perhaps show people what's possible in this world."

And with that opportunity comes $13 million in annual salary, almost 1 million Twitter followers and a very long list of sponsors. But that fame does not come without its critics. In nine years of professional racing in both the Indy Car Series and now NASCAR, Patrick has been in almost 200 races but has won only once, leading some racing fans and fellow drivers to claim that she garners so much attention because she is a woman and is attractive.

But Patrick brushes off such notions.

"I would say that if that were the case that I doubt I would still be around," she said. "On the other hand, on a day-to-day basis and throughout my career, yeah, that's true too. It's probably true that I get more attention because of how I look, but it's also because of what I'm doing on the track."

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Being a successful woman in a man's world is what's pioneering, not necessarily winning, something Patrick takes to heart.

"It's nice to be the first to do things, but I want to be remembered as a great driver," she said. "I feel pressure for me as a driver to reach my potential, but it doesn't have anything to do with being a girl. It just has to do with my potential as a driver."

The widely popularized GoDaddy.com Super Bowl commercials, which helped turn Patrick into a national icon, did nothing to quell the debate, but they have also helped shape the Patrick brand -- something she said she doesn't regret.

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