Danica Patrick was already a popular celebrity prior to joining NASCAR, having appeared in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue and for her sponsor in television commercials during the Super Bowl among other things. The former IndyCar star announced that she would give up the open wheels for stockcars starting with a part-time schedule in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series in 2010. Her transition became complete last season when she raced the entire Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports. She finished with one pole, four top ten finishes and was tenth in the final championship standings.
This season will be yet another transition for Patrick. In 2013, Patrick is scheduled to compete fulltime in NASCAR’s top Sprint Cup Series for Stewart-Haas Racing. After an off season that included divorcing her husband of seven years, and questions surrounding her future TV commercials during the Super Bowl, along with rumors of her again competing in the Nationwide Series, Patrick is ready to focus her attention on her new Sprint Cup ride. Last week she was part of NASCAR’s preseason Thunder Sprint Cup test session at Daytona International Speedway. Patrick took time to answer questions from the media. Below are the highlights.
MANY OF THE SPRINT CUP DRIVERS IN THE CIRCUIT TODAY HAD TOUGH YEARS IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES, BUT SOMEHOW THE STEP FORWARD WAS MUCH BETTER FOR THEM. DO YOU FEEL BETTER IN THIS CAR THAN YOU DID IN THE NATIONWIDE CAR?
“Well, it’s not like I didn’t do any Sprint Cup running, I did ten races last year. It was a good warm up for this year. As far as this new car in particular, I couldn’t even tell the difference between a Nationwide and a Cup car here. It’s pretty straight forward here at Daytona. I know that what the most important thing is. I feel as with any team whether it is racing or another sport is that the team itself is critical. It’s important to have good energy together, understand each other well and work well together. I feel like the switch over to Tony Gibson and his team at the end of last season for the last two races was a really good change. I feel like I really saw some potential in having a good year this year. There will undoubtedly be really tough days. I know the areas that we need to work on. I think that having that good run at the end of Phoenix there to go for a top-12 finish was a pretty good day. I think we are all really confident going into this year. We just have to be optimistic, keep our heads down and stay positive when it gets tough.”
THERE ARE A LOT OF CHANGES HAPPENING THIS YEAR. YOU’RE MOVING UP IS A CHANGE FOR YOU, BUT IT’S A BIG CHANGE FOR THE TEAMS ALSO, YOU HAVE A BRAND NEW CAR. CAN YOU SHARE WITH FANS WHAT IT IS LIKE FOR YOU TO MOVE UP, WHILE EVERYBODY ELSE IS REALLY BUSY TRYING TO GET THE CAR READY?
“I don’t think that matters, it’s just the circumstance. I mean there are a lot of rule changes in NASCAR happening from year to year and definitely this year with the new car. I know that it was really late getting like decklids and things like that for the team. They only just got them this past week. I know that there is a lot of stuff going on that has made the guys kind of work longer, later, especially in these first few weeks of the year. But that is just what happens when a new car comes out. I think that for me as a first year full-time in Sprint Cup, I think that a new car is probably a positive for me. Everybody is starting off on sort of a little bit more of a level playing field. Who knows maybe this new car will play into my driving style better than the old one. I’m not really sure. I have heard it drives a little bit more like a Nationwide car, so maybe it will be something that will be more familiar to me. I think that especially with a new car, being a new driver, I’m not going to be looking for a feeling that the old car gave me; because I don’t really know it that well. Especially, going with Tony Gibson and the guys for the last couple of races with some different set-ups I think that we will be starting with a clean sheet of paper for this year. I think that could be a real positive.”
DO YOU KNOW EXTRACURRICULAR BEYOND CUP WHAT YOUR NATIONWIDE SCHEDULE IS GOING TO LOOK LIKE AND ARE YOU DEFINITELY NOT DOING THE INDY 500 THIS YEAR?
“I can confirm to you today that I will not be doing the Indy 500. I am just going to do the Coke 600. The team and I decided to focus on Cup. It’s going to be plenty of work as it is. It’s going to be important for me running for the championship full-time for the first time to really keep myself focused with the Cup car. But if I do the Indy 500 moving forward it will be with GoDaddy.
“Nationwide I am not sure if that is completely set. I know there have been some reports that have come out about running for Turner (Scott Motorsports). We are definitely talking to them trying to figure it out and we are definitely working on that, but there has been nothing signed yet. The exact dates, the races and the sponsor have yet to be confirmed for all that. We are working on it, but I would like to. I think that would be a good weekend to do it.”
TALK ABOUT YOUR MINDSET YOU WERE ALWAYS SAYING LAST YEAR YOU WERE NOT GOING TO BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF. HOW DO YOU FEEL COMING INTO THE FIRST SEASON? HOW IS THE VISION IN THE CAR?
“The vision is the first thing that popped out with what you were saying. I feel like I almost sit higher in the car. I feel like I can see more out the front window. I don’t know if the dash is lower or not, but these are things probably Tony (Stewart) would know. I don’t know. It seems just fine to me. I feel like I can see better out the front. I think again just like last year obviously things have been changing for me year to year over the last good few years now. Again, to just stay relaxed and stay positive, as I said earlier you can’t let the tough days get you down. I’m sure they are going to happen, so I think that is going to help us have more better days if we can stay positive and stay up beat. Tony Gibson (crew chief) has said to all of you guys and said to me that we need to create certain expectation levels as we go along and make them realistic, be smart about them and move them slowly. That is a really good perspective for him to have. It’s great to go into the season and think ‘gosh we left off so well’ and we should run top-10 or 15 now every weekend, we are going to do that. But I think that it is going to be tough to do that every weekend given my first year. I think everybody has got the right attitude. Everybody is excited.”
YOU GET A LOT OF ATTENTION IN CYBER SPACE FROM FANS DEBATING WHETHER YOU WILL BE SUCCESSFUL AT THIS LEVEL. DO YOU PAY ANY ATTENTION TO THAT STUFF? DOES IT BOTHER YOU?
DANICA PATRICK: “Well what they say doesn’t create my finishes. I think it is great that people are talking about me. It’s great there is a conversation, but I really try not to read those things. Because at the end of the day they really don’t matter.”
THIS WILL BE YOUR FIRST YEAR GOING IN AFTER SEVERAL YEARS OF TRANSITION IS THERE A DIFFERENT FEELING THAT YOU HAVE GOING INTO THIS SEASON? IS THIS TEST ALSO A TIME FOR YOU GUYS TO HANG OUT, TEAMMATES AND TEAM, WHAT ARE YOU DOING BEYOND THE RACE TRACK TO BOND?
DANICA PATRICK: “I feel really excited I have to say going into this season versus a lot of other seasons in my career I just feel excited. I’m looking forward to it. Sometimes I get a little more nervous going into the year, but I think that we have just got such a good atmosphere on the team all around that makes me excited.”
HAVE YOU DEFINED ANY STATISTICAL GOALS FOR 2013 AND JUST GIVE ME YOUR OUTLOOK ON THE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR BATTLE:
DANICA PATRICK: “I think it’s very difficult at this point in time to put sort of numbers to exactly where I should be finishing. I think you can look at a little bit of what happened last year as a bit of a baseline as to expectation levels and definitely areas that need work. But it’s a new year; it’s a new car and a lot of stuff changes so obviously I will be working full-time with Tony (Gibson, crew chief) and the guys now. I think everything changes a little bit and you can never really know what to expect. I think we just need to get started on the season, get these first few races out of the way and then start to create some baseline for what we are expecting and what we are shooting for.”
WHAT YOU YOUR OUTLOOK ON WINNING THE ROOKIE-OF-THE-YEAR TITLE?
DANICA PATRICK: “You know you just race hard. I think those are the things that just happen. If it does it does, if it doesn’t it doesn’t, but I think that if I shoot for great results each time and keep bettering myself all the time that is the best goal that I can have as opposed to just shooting for Rookie-of-the-Year. It’s going to be something I’m sure that will come into thought at the end of the year. What decides that is it just championship or what does? I don’t even know. Is it points? I don’t even know what I have to do necessarily. Just do the best I can and hope that is enough.”