MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (AP) - With a handshake as firm as a wrench, Danica Patrick greets a guest, then quickly takes a seat on the couch in her 18th-floor hotel suite.
The windows look south upon the ocean meeting a sun-splashed beach, but Patrick doesn't give a glance. Now that she has reached the pinnacle of her sport in popularity, she's often too busy to enjoy the view.
Patrick's always going 200 mph, and it's by choice. This year she added 13 Nationwide dates to her IndyCar schedule, and she concludes her rookie NASCAR season this weekend an hour south of South Beach at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The results, she concedes, have left her crying on a few friendly shoulders. Her average Nationwide finish has been 29th. She has yet to crack the top 20 and in the past four races settled for 36th, 30th, 27th and 32nd.
"I give myself As and Fs all the time," Patrick says. "I'm feeling comfortable in the car now. Just the simple things of how to start the car, all the fans, different things _ that's so much less overwhelming to me than it was in the first couple of months. This race stretch has been good to get comfortable. Unfortunately we haven't had the results."
The poor showings have weighed on Patrick on and off the track.
"Usually it's more like sadness and frustration that comes out in the form of crying on a shoulder," she says. "It's hard. I want to do well. I want to impress people. I want to show I can do it."
Patrick denies she's stretched too thin, and rejects the idea she should have honed her stock-car skills in lower series than Nationwide.
"I don't think I bit off more than I can chew at all," she says. "Nationwide was where I wanted to go and where everyone recommended I go as well. Drivers told me to do it."
Despite a series of disappointing finishes, business remains brisk. Patrick continues to take advantage of her popularity with lucrative endorsement deals and also finds time for community service. She conducted a series of interviews Wednesday to promote awareness of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, encouraging people to get screened for the illness via the website DRIVE4COPD.com.
Patrick says her expanded racing schedule gives her an expanded audience.
"I'm racing more, so I'm in the news every weekend," she says. "You're on TV more. There has been more interest, and more opportunities. It has helped with the awareness of my brand."
Patrick will move her base of operations from the oceanfront suite on bustling South Beach to a tour bus in sleepy Homestead for NASCAR's final weekend of the year.
She says she's comfortable in either setting.
"I fit in kind of anywhere," says Patrick, who grew up in Roscoe, Ill. "I really enjoy cooking and playing card games and board games. That's small-town. But I love getting dressed up. I love going to an amazing restaurant and eating some great food and drinking some wonderful wine and being kind of on the scene. I think it's good to have both."
On her last visit to Homestead-Miami Speedway seven weeks ago, Patrick took second place in the IndyCar race. She'll try to finish her rookie NASCAR year on a positive note with a more aggressive approach developed after a few months of rubbing fenders.
She tangled at Dover with James Buescher and wrecked, and last week at Phoenix she bumped with Alex Kennedy for several laps.
"That's what she's got to do," says her crew chief, Tony Eury Jr. "It's a give-and-take out there, and the only way she's going to get respect from other guys is (for them) to know she's going to retaliate and she's not going to take it. She did the right thing. She got her point across. She'll have to do more of it."
Patrick says the contact is partly a result of driving in tighter quarters as her car becomes more competitive. It's also a matter of doing what every race-car driver does: putting your foot down.
"Earning respect doesn't just come in the form of being nice to somebody," she says. "It also comes from standing up for yourself. You have to say enough is enough. I did a little bit of that Saturday. Probably more is in order. I don't plan on getting pushed around. I'm not the type that does, especially when I have fenders now. It's time I make sure I stand up for myself."
She'll be back in 2011, once again running a part-time Nationwide schedule and a full IndyCar schedule. The next stop for her tour bus: Daytona in February.
"Like most old people, we'll camp out in Florida for the winter," she says with a smile.
Perhaps Patrick will get a little rest and a chance to savor some scenery.
AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.