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Danica says Stewart 'off the meds and back to life'

9:35 PM, Aug 16, 2013   |    comments
Danica Patrick/AP
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By Mike Hembree, Special for USA TODAY Sports

BROOKLYN, Mich. - What's the best sign that injured Tony Stewart is on the rebound? He's asking questions - and they're not about his broken right leg.

"I've heard he's kind of getting back in the game, you know," Danica Patrick said Friday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway. "He wants to know everything that's going on. He wants to be able to hear what we're doing. He's off the meds and back to life again."

Team competition director Greg Zipadelli, who has visited Stewart a couple times this week, said Friday morning the driver was in good spirits but still in a lot of pain.

Patrick, one of three drivers for the Stewart-Haas Racing team, said she has maintained communication with Stewart via texting as SHR deals with his extended absence from the driver's seat after he suffered a broken right leg in a sprint car crash at Southern Iowa Speedway on Aug. 5.

Among the things Stewart missed Friday at MIS: some of the fastest laps of the season. Twenty drivers shot past the 200-mph mark in Friday's first practice for the Pure Michigan 400.

Patrick was close to that group, running 199.452 to sit 24th on the speed list.

Patrick has driven much faster in open-wheel Indy cars, of course, but she said everything is relative.

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"I think any car that feels comfortable and is good feels like a moderate speed and any car that is not working right and doesn't feel good, those are the cars that feel like you're going at warp speed," she said. "I've had both in both conditions. Gosh, I can remember back in the Indy-car days here being so loose one time and feeling like I was doing 160 miles per hour instead of 220 or whatever we were doing. It all depends on the balance of the car."

Patrick scored her third-best finish of the season at MIS in June, rallying late in the race to take 13th (she has finishes of eighth at Daytona and 12th at Martinsville).

"I struggled and didn't feel very comfortable, but we worked really, really hard on trying to get a car that was more consistent and predictable and felt better," she said. "Actually, we kind of started working toward it here in the race, and by the end of the race I felt really good.

"We made a lot of improvements and have continued to make improvements since we were here last. When I first went out on the track, I thought, 'Man, this feels like a whole different car.' While literally it probably is, it just feels so much better than the last time."

Patrick has had one finish better than 20th since the first Michigan race of the season -- 14th at Daytona in July.

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