Danica Patrick made quite a splash when she first entered the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full-time in 2013. In the first race as part of her full time schedule, Patrick made history as the first woman to score a pole as she won the pole for the season opening Daytona 500 last year. She would go on to finish eighth in the Daytona 500. It turned out to be her best, and only, top 10 finish of the season.
Patrick returns to Daytona to begin her sophomore Sprint Cup campaign. Thursday Patrick met with reporters at Daytona for her first interview of the year. Below is the transcript of that interview.
THE MODERATOR: Danica, welcome here to Daytona International Speedway and the bright liquid sunshine that we have for you today. Can you talk about your off season and getting ready to get back into the swing of things for 2014?
DANICA PATRICK: I was getting ready in the hauler. I had to like comb my hair I left Charlotte this morning and touch up my makeup. I said, I've got to go talk to the media for the first time this year. They're like, oh, of course. What are they going to ask you? The first question is going to be, how was your winter. And there it is.
THE MODERATOR: I put it on a tee for you.
Q. Are you engaged?
DANICA PATRICK: No, I'm not engaged. I'll let you know when it happens.
Q. How hard will you have to push yourself as a result of not being a rookie this year, or do you always push yourself that hard and it's just a normal kind of push, and Tony Gibson says he may push a little harder on you this year. Will that work?
DANICA PATRICK: I think that we all have the same goal, so it's all healthy criticism. I always want it. I want to know what to do to be better. And I do think that the pressure builds more and more each year because there's less and less excuses.
I feel like we have a lot of really cool stuff going on at the team and a lot of really interesting changes and new drivers and new personnel, and I think that I don't know if anybody is as excited as Kevin Harvick is right now. He seems just super excited. But everybody is really looking forward to the year, and I think we all feel a lot of opportunity ahead of us.
I'm always pushing hard. I mean, I can't push harder. But you can find new ways and areas to do it. I'm all for that.
Q. You're now surrounded by two Cup champions and Kevin Harvick, who may get one in the future. How do you expect that to help you for your career and this year?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I feel like we've got a bigger team. It brought in new people, new ideas, new approaches, a new energy, and I think as far as drivers go, and they’re going to be able to lead the way really well. They all have a ton of experience, and it's just bigger. Ryan did, too, and Tony, of course, but with Tony being gone and then having kind of the shuffle of the season, I think that this is going to be a year for opportunity, really. I think that for me I'm able to feed off of their experience and making the car better. So I've always felt like, whether it was IndyCar or now, I learn a lot more when we make good changes and make the car right, or better, because I start to learn the potential of the car as opposed to not knowing what the potential is and not knowing what I have to deal with and settle for.
So good changes help me learn what's really possible with the car, and I think that's what comes from guys with a lot of experience is they know what to do with the car.
Q. You mentioned a little bit in your answer there, but when you look at 2013 and then going into 2014, why should the No. 10 team and you be better this year? What do you see that says we're going to be better because?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, we're going to be better because I have more experience, because we have more experiences together as a team, because we have more resources and more people, because we have a new energy, because we're going to use our resources better as a team. I think those are all reasons why we're going to do better.
And beyond that it's going to be hard work, too. It's not like you can just say, well, we have all these things going for us so everything will be easier. You still have to put the effort in, and it's who pushes hardest and who works hardest that tends to get the better results.
Q. Are you seeing any examples of having more resources?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I think that as a team we were able to, as we expanded to four cars, we were also able to expand the shop and add new equipment, get a better relationship going, more fluid, with Hendrick. So I think that those are all things that have been happening a lot over the winter and a little bit at the end of last year.
Q. I was curious if it took you any convincing to do the showgirl at the American Country Awards and kind of what was the response like?
DANICA PATRICK: The showgirl skit was really it happened at the show last minute. It happened from Saturday to Tuesday to the show. It was kind of an idea that popped up. Myself and a producer that I had worked with at the ESPYs every year who I asked to come help me with it, we really wanted something that was going to stand out, be something that people would talk about, be something that would be good for photos, something that was going to make headlines, something to come away from the show on the next day. So they came up with the showgirl number.
And I would say that the hardest part about that was the outfit. I mean, we went round and round about I originally was in the outfit that the girls were wearing next to me, but like they I'm clearly not their height or shape, so I got a different outfit. But it was like pulling teeth to get it. They were definitely very protective of their uniforms and their costumes I should say.
But the lady that came and helped me from the show was really nice and helped me get into the costume during the show, so it was nice to have that experience on hand.
It took a little bit of convincing, but I was pretty much of the mindset that I'm up for anything. So that's why I did it.
Q. What have you guys identified as specific improvement areas this year? I know last year qualifying was a big deal. Do you have a list of a certain group of things that if you think you can make jumps there that things are going to fall into place better for you?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I think that the core focus is really preparing better cars and bringing as good a cars to the track as possible, and that comes through using our resources, being able to build them more similar to each other as they come out of production so we can keep up with the cars and we're all driving the same thing. So I think that some of those things are overall what we want to work on.
Now, me as a driver, I need to work on still a lot of the same stuff that I was working on from the beginning of last year. I think the weak areas tend to be the ones that for me I always have to work on. But improving on qualifying, which I think that we did through the end of the year last year a little more. We started to get into a good pattern with that. But I think what showed itself is how we get to that point during the weekend.
For us it was a matter of not throwing big things at the car and not trying to throw the kitchen sink at it during practice but hopefully arriving with a close enough setup and then fine tuning. What we found was there's so much balance in tiny little things, whether it be packer or just little adjustments.
So I think that getting the car to where you want, these things these are big cars with a lot going on and one thing leads to the next with it. To get everything just right and get all the travels and everything just right and the bump stops and everything, getting that right was worth just as much almost as putting on a better setup. So kind of fine tuning was one thing that helped us with our weekend.
But that's the things that you learn over time. We were all doing everything we could earlier in the year to throw different things at it to see if it was better. But working more methodically at the end of the year seemed to help that.
Between that and just kind of getting more what shows itself in getting more comfortable in those first laps qualifying, first start of the race, restarts, all those things, they all kind of go hand in hand, and those are the areas that I have to work on.
Q. How do you like the personality mix in the driver lineup you're with? It seems like a throwback to the Andretti days where you can have some candid and spirited but probably fun and productive conversations with that group, also.
DANICA PATRICK: Well, we haven't had a sit down all-together yet. I know all of them pretty well on their own, so I feel like we're going to have a lot of fun. I feel like everybody is going to have their opinions, but I feel like there's a lot of respect in the camp, and I think it's going to lead to progress to be honest.
Q. Tony was in here before you and he was asked to evaluate the team's expectations for 2014, and he said that he thought that the team has three guys that can win every week and three cars that can make the Chase, and he said that wasn't meant to discount your performance but he thought there was still opportunity for improvement and consistency there. Knowing that last year you went to Tony and said, hey, what are you expecting from me, is it a relief to know that's kind of what he's looking for from you for 2014 is improving but not necessarily winning every week like the other three guys, and is it also motivation to get into that category but at the same time kind of comforting to know that's what he expects?
DANICA PATRICK: I think what you're always going to get from all of us, and that's honesty. That's the truth. I'm not there yet. I'm not in a position to win every weekend. That's going to take some time. I'm in a fortunate position that I have three teammates that can win every weekend and make it to the Chase. That's incredible for me to be able to learn from those. And very strong characters that are going to really help the team go in the right direction and teach me how to do that.
So I just feel very fortunate to be in the position that I'm in, and I hope somewhere down the road sooner rather than later he can say four of us. But I mean, I'm prepared if we start the year off and it goes like that, but I think that realistic expectations say that's not where I'm at.
Q. In terms of Daytona, we all remember after the 500 last year you were a little frustrated because of where you got stuck on that last run and you couldn't try to make a move to win the race. A year later if you're in that same position again, do you feel like the experience you gained over the last year as a plate racer, would you be confident enough to do something different? Do you think it might turn out differently?
DANICA PATRICK: Possibly. I mean, I think that I definitely learned how to make the run and do it. I also learned that you have to practice it a little bit. You can't just go and bomb it on the last lap of the Daytona 500. I'm very fortunate to be in the Shootout the weekend before the race so that I can practice those kinds of things and have more track time and especially more racing time.
I think that there is an element of having an idea of what to do, and there's also the element of being around for a while that people trust you and are willing to work with you a little bit. So I think it's a little bit of both, but you're not going to get their respect if you don't try.
So I think it's sort of a parallel progression.
Q. I'm doing a piece on turning points as far as drivers, and I'm thinking in your case possibly Japan. What I'm saying is what is something in your career that kind of puts you onto that next level or that next step? Would it be the win in Japan?
DANICA PATRICK: I mean, I think that for me the biggest turning point was 2005 Indy 500. That was a big month for me. That was a life changing point in my career. You know, winning in Japan was great, but I think the 2005 Indy 500 played a bigger role.
THE MODERATOR: Danica, thank you very much for joining us today.