The No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet Impala SS is loaded and ready. Crew chief Tony Gibson and the GoDaddy.com crew are ready. And, most importantly, Danica Patrick Daytona 500 preparation begins. As she kicks off her first full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
The marathon 36-race Sprint Cup schedule begins with the 55th Daytona 500 Feb. 24 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. And it marks the first race in Patrick’s first full season in NASCAR’s top division.
After seven full seasons in IndyCar and one full season of NASCAR Nationwide Series, Patrick is about to embark on the longest and toughest season in all of racing. In IndyCar, she competed in only one race a year of 500 miles in length – the world famous Indianapolis 500. In the Sprint Cup Series, 10 of the 36 races on the schedule are 500 miles or more in length and only six are less than 300 miles.
Patrick will drive more miles than she ever has in a season, but she’ll do so with a veteran crew led by crew chief Gibson.
While Patrick, a Rookie of the Year candidate, lacks a ton of Sprint Cup experience, a new car may help level the playing field for her as she embarks on her first full season at NASCAR’s highest level. NASCAR’s sixth-generation Sprint Cup car (Gen-6) is being used for the first time this season, meaning even veteran drivers won’t have old notes to work from, given that the new machines are vastly different (and better looking) than the Gen-5 automobiles.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about your outlook for the year.
“I think the Daytona test went very well. Obviously, the car is fast. At the Charlotte test, we learned a lot, got more comfortable and, more than anything, kind of found a better balance as the day went on, improved our race pace. I’m sure there are going to be some trying moments moving through the beginning part of the year, but we kind of know it’s going to be a challenging year and there’s just a lot to learn. We’ll move through that together and we’ll keep our heads up, and we’re still going to have some good days, too, and those will be nice rewards for our hard work. But it’s that time of year where everybody is feeling relatively optimistic.”
Tony Stewart chose 10 of the toughest races on the schedule for you last year. Do you feel like, having been through the tougher races, you’ll see the benefit of that this year?
“Of course. I think whenever you get the tough ones out of the way, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I think last week they were saying Tony was wondering why I wasn’t doing Martinsville at the end of the year, and somebody said, ‘Well, you picked the schedule, you tell us why she didn’t do Martinsville.’ So we’ll be obviously testing there before we get to race there. But, other than that, I mean, I think Pocono is the only other one I haven’t been to. There will still be some challenges ahead as far as new experiences, but just getting those – the toughest ones – out of the way first is going to be nice going into the season. And, hopefully, it’ll help us in the long run, of course.”
Do you feel like competing in 10 races last year will make you more comfortable this year since the Sprint Cup Series will not be completely new to you?
“I think all the experience I had last year, of course, is going to make me a little more comfortable moving into this year. I think just the little things like fitting in the car and just the stuff you’re constantly messing with when you first get in with a team, that’s all gone and you can really hit the ground running as far as how does the car feel, how do I improve it. Obviously, I’m familiar with the people who work at Stewart?Haas and that just makes it all easier when you get going for the next year. We still have a lot to do, though, and there’s a lot of stuff I haven’t experienced, yet. I’m still in Cup for the first time, full?time, so that’s going to be difficult in and of itself.”
Talk about working with your crew chief Tony Gibson.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: He’s a great guy. I haven’t come across anyone who doesn’t like Tony Gibson. For some reason, I like these good ol’ boys. I got along great with Tony Eury Jr., and I feel like they just have a good feel for the sport and they’re real hands?on, and that’s nice, I guess. That’s a big compliment for somebody different like me to come in and make a good ol’ boy a fan of mine and work hard for me and want to do that job. That’s a nice compliment.”
What specific things do you want to work on this year?
“I feel like I tend to work on similar issues no matter where I go or what I do, and then there are ones I don’t have to work on because they are more natural to me and I’m naturally maybe better at. But it’s usually things like getting on and off pit road well. It’s qualifying, getting up to speed quickly. That’s stuff where you need to really, really trust the car and know what it’s going to do. I’m just not there, yet, especially now in Cup starting that full?time. It’s just a learning process. It took a while to get there in Nationwide, but I did, especially from more of a qualifying get?up?to?speed perspective, and I’m sure that’ll happen in Cup in due time.”
Does the new car help level the playing field for you as a rookie?
“Well, I mean, again, we’re obviously all dealing with the new car. I think it’s nice from a driver’s perspective like mine, without a lot of experience in the Cup Series, to be able to kind of start with this new car, now, because I won’t take any bad habits in, I won’t take any pre?conceived ideas as to what the car is doing or can be doing for me out on the track. It’s a clean slate and I think that’s a good thing. It’s definitely not bad.”
What are your expectations for Daytona?
“I don’t know. Does anybody know what to expect when they go to Daytona? I think what makes it exciting for the fans and exciting for everybody is every now and again you have a surprise, and I would hope to be one of those surprises. That would be nice. Obviously it was about as bad as it could go last year getting taken out in the Nationwide race after starting on the pole, and getting taken out in the last lap of the Duel and the first lap of the Daytona 500. Those are all the worst times to get taken out. We’re only looking up from there I say, right?”
You’ve had a long association with Go Daddy. Talk about that.
“One of the most important roles is the sponsor and I’ve got the best one in Go Daddy. They gave me the ability to take my time and move from IndyCar to NASCAR. I’m not sure people understand how supportive they are. When I told them I wanted to drive for Stewart?Haas, they said, ‘Whatever you want to do, we support you.’ And that’s a really rare thing. I’m really lucky to have the support of Go Daddy and all their employees.”
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