Danica Patrick racing along to history has given NASCAR a big publicity bump. The driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) gave us the highest finish ever by a woman at the Daytona 500 and the highest finish ever by a woman at Daytona 500. Danica Patrick racing is revving up for her first season of Sprint Cup.
The 30-year-old Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year candidate and a history-making pole run and led five laps (90 to 91 and 127 to 129), becoming the first female to lead NASCAR’s most prestigious race and the first woman to lead Sprint Cup Series laps under green. Janet Guthrie led five laps under caution in 1977 at Ontario (Calif.) Motor Speedway.
This team has been here before. In fact, just a few short months ago last November, Patrick and her Tony Gibson-led team earned a 17th-place finish at the mile oval nestled in the Arizona desert. Prior to her record-breaking run at Daytona, Phoenix was the site of Patrick’s best Sprint Cup finish.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Given what you accomplished at Phoenix last year and Daytona to start the season, do you adjust your expectations a little bit?
“No. I mean, I think that would be unwise to sort of start telling myself that top-10 is where we need to be every week. I think that’s setting up failure. The list of drivers in the Cup series is deep. Daytona is a unique track. These tracks are different and unique. A lot about the car. I mean, you have to be smart enough to do the right thing at the right time. But it’s very much about the car. I feel like I’m still sticking to, ‘Let’s see how these first five races go where we go to a bunch of different kinds of tracks, see where we settle in.’ Then start to establish goals from there on out. The only thing we can go off of is at the end of last year and running solid inside that top-20, hopefully get inside that top-15. That’s really all I can think, right now. That’s all I can think. It might change after five races. It might be better. Who knows? It might be worse. We’re going to kind of pick up where we left off.”
You are the first woman to lead laps in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. Talk about that.
“I think a stat I found more interesting is only 13 people, including me, now, have led Indy and Daytona. I thought that was a much cooler stat for me. I’m honored. But, again, these are things that just happen along the way. I’m on the quest to be the best driver, run up front, get to victory lane. These things happen and I’m proud, but they’re not the ultimate goal.”
What are your thoughts heading into Phoenix?
“Daytona is a different deal than Phoenix and Vegas and all these tracks we have coming up. We’ve got our work cut out for us building that notebook between Danica and I and getting her more time on these tracks. That is one of the two races we got to work with her last year and we did run extremely well. We were 12th going into the green-white-checkered after the big fight there and we were thinking, ‘We can get a top-10 here.’ We got taken out by Jeff Burton with a lap to go, but we still finished 17th, which is still good, but we were getting ready to really surpass our goals we had set for that weekend. She did a fantastic job. She stayed on the lead lap and raced her way up into the top-15 there near the end. She gave great feedback all day and did a great job, so we’re excited to go back. We know qualifying is something we have to work on at these places, getting her up to speed quicker, and that’s what we need to work on in the first part of the year. That way, when we come back in the second half, we can do even better in qualifying. Track position at these short tracks is just so huge and she knows that and, obviously, everyone else does, too.”
A Fulbright scholar, author and MBA, Banks has appeared on the History Channel, as well as Clear Channel, ESPN and CBS radio all over the world. President Barack Obama follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB)