In 2005, Danica Patrick made her IZOD IndyCar Series debut driving for three-time IndyCar Series champion Bobby Rahal in a 300-mile event at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Slightly less than seven years later, this Sunday, Patrick will make her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut 296 miles to the north of Homestead when she takes part in the 54th Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
Here’s an in-depth interview of Danica Patrick, as she prepares for her transition to NASCAR.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet:
What are your overall thoughts heading to Daytona?
“Well, with Daytona, it’s a big track. It’s an easy track to drive. If you have a fast car, you’re going to probably go to the front. I think my inexperience is less of an issue because the car is easy to drive. For me, at a place like Daytona, it reminds me of racing Indy cars. It reminds me of our mile-and-a-half racing, where we’d always be in a pack. There was no bump drafting in IndyCar. That took some getting used to a little bit.”
What are your thoughts on the length of the races in NASCAR compared to IndyCar?
“It is a bit of an adjustment getting used to the length of the races. Not so much the distance as it is the amount of hours that you’re in the car. When I heard the old stories of people who had snacks in the racecars, I thought it was a joke. But I don’t think it’s a joke, anymore. I really think there are snacks in the car. So maybe it will be that. Maybe it’s making sure I have the right drink in my drink bottle so it keeps me sharp. Whether it’s carbohydrates or proteins, I’ll leave that up to my trainer to figure that out. Also, focusing on hydration and rest, and making sure that, nutritionally, I’m putting the right thing into my body. As far as working out, I have a feeling the number of races will provide workouts of their own. But I’ll keep working out like I normally do.”
Can you talk about your long relationship with Go Daddy?
“I was thinking about this the other day. It’s really perfect because I am a girl so, therefore, I am a Go Daddy Girl. I enjoy getting made up, and I enjoy being feminine and girly. But then, I also enjoy being in the racecar and being tough. So I think it’s that blend of the two – Jillian (Michaels, fellow Go Daddy Girl) said it so well – that strong women can be sexy and soft and beautiful. She said that really well. It’s fun to do that. I think something people don’t know about me is how much I like being a girl when I’m outside of the racecar, and how much I like getting made up and doing photo shoots and things like that. They’re really the perfect sponsor. We have a lot of fun. We poke fun at not only ourselves, but everything, and we try to make people laugh a little.”
In IndyCar racing you never competed in more than 17 races in a season and, in 2010, you competed in 32 races between IndyCar, the NASCAR Nationwide Series, NASCAR K&N Pro Series and ARCA. This year, you’re scheduled to compete in 43 races with 33 in Nationwide and 10 in Sprint Cup. Can you talk about the number of races you’ll participate in?
“Well the schedule itself was a little intimidating to me back in my early IndyCar days. I didn’t know how anybody did that many races in a year. But, as time went on, and I adjusted to the schedule of being a professional racecar driver and balancing all the other things that go with it and then introducing a dozen or so NASCAR races to my IndyCar season, all of a sudden, that took me to 30 race weekends. It’s not necessarily the amount of racing that happens in the weekend that’s so overwhelming, it’s the travel. It’s the weekends. It’s the time that you take away from home. So, going from 30 to 34, 35-ish race weekends are not that big of an adjustment. While there will be a lot more racing with 43 events or 43 races, it’s not 43 weekends, so I’m comfortable. I’m ready for it. At the end of the day, when you’re having fun with something, you want to do it. So I’m ready.”
Can you talk about Tony Stewart since you both have experience in IndyCar racing?
“We don’t talk a lot about IndyCar and NASCAR. They’re very different worlds. I think it’s nice that I know he has the reference and can understand where I’m coming from, perhaps, with some feelings and certain ways I describe the car. But we don’t speak specifically about Indy cars because of the difference in cars. So, for me, it’s nice to have a guy like Tony who is confident and will help me and give me answers and be honest and want to see me get better. And the IndyCar references are just nice from a background standpoint that he understands what I’m talking about.”
It seems as though you have set high expectations for yourself at Daytona. Talk about that.
“It is very high, but I’m kind of curious what you would say about what other people’s expectations are for Daytona because I think everyone feels they have a shot to win. As long as their car is relatively fast and there’s going to be a little bit of a difference with maybe not doing quite as much tandem running throughout the race, I’ll be curious to see how that goes. It’s so much faster when you run with somebody, so we’ll see how that plays out in the rules that NASCAR put on us to try to make that not happen. But I would imagine you get that from a lot of drivers – that there is that chance. It’s like my first time going to the Indy 500 at Indianapolis. I knew I had a fast car. When I got asked how I felt when I was in the lead at the end of the race, I said I felt like that’s where I should be all day. So here I am going to the biggest race in a year in a new series just like I was in IndyCar, and I have those expectations. Now, the rest of the season is going to have very different expectation levels. But Daytona is very unique, and there is a real chance for some great results there.”
What are your overall thoughts on the season ahead of you?
“Generally, I’m just really ready. I’m excited about the season. I’m excited about the racing. I’m a little bit nervous, too, because I want to do well. Any time you feel like you want to do well, whether it’s on the track or doing your job, you get a little nervous because you feel a little pressure to want to do it. But I’m very happy with where I am. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity I do with two fantastic teams. That’s all you can ask for as a driver – to have good racecars and good crew chiefs.”
You announced last month that you will not compete in the Indianapolis 500 and, instead, compete in the Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. Talk about that.
“I’m sure it will be a little strange. I’m sure I’ll be paying attention – I love Indy. I’m confident it will work out in the future. But I loved the three weeks of Indy, so when they cut it down to two weeks, I was disappointed. I tried to talk everyone into going back to three weeks again. But I have a feeling my plate’s going to be full, and I’ll be well-distracted with lots of NASCAR racing and flying all over the country during May and ending up in Charlotte for Memorial Day weekend. I’m excited to see how NASCAR does Memorial Day weekend. I know how it’s done in IndyCar, and how to honor the day and what it really means about people serving our country. So I’m excited to see how NASCAR does it.”
In IndyCar racing, the biggest race of the season, the Indianapolis 500, is usually the fourth or fifth race of the season. In NASCAR, the Daytona 500, the biggest race of the season, kicks off the season. Talk about that.
“I suppose I thought it was interesting the biggest race of the season is at the very beginning for NASCAR. But being involved in that and seeing what that does, at the end of the day, our sport is about sponsors and sponsors come when people watch. So, when you have the biggest race at the beginning of the year, they start watching. And, with NASCAR, you race every weekend after that and they continue to watch. I think it’s quite smart to start out the season with such media coverage, and it starts to develop storylines, and people can start to follow it because there’s a long season ahead.
You are scheduled to compete in 10 Sprint Cup races and nine of them have been announced. Would you consider competing in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis?
“Somebody even mentioned something about the All?Star Race (at Charlotte). I was like ‘I don’t think I’m an All?Star.’ They’re like, ‘Well, there’s a fan vote.’ We haven’t really thought about it. We haven’t put ideas down. But, mentioning the Brickyard, that is a great idea. That might be a great place to add the 10th race. I know the IndyCar fans – there are a lot of them there, of course. It would be great to go there and do the big NASCAR race and be around. I love that track. It’s my favorite track. So that’s a great idea. I’ll talk to them about that.”
A lot of the attention has been on your relationship with Tony Stewart. Can you talk about working with Ryan Newman?
“For me, with Ryan, he’s been really kind to me over the years – especially the last couple of years in NASCAR. He’s commented a couple of times to me. Stopped and chatted about doing a good job out there and how’s it going. General curiosity. So, I get along great with Ryan. We were actually just talking about some charity stuff, too, with dogs. I know he does a lot with animals. I share the same views as Krissie (Newman), apparently. So I think I’ll probably sit down and talk with her about that. But I really like him. I think the team as a whole is going to have a lot of fun.”
Are you prepared for the difference in competition between the Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup Series?
“I’ll learn that. That’s part of the process of what I’ve dealt with in Nationwide – getting familiar with what’s acceptable on the track. I can put my car into someone’s rear bumper as easily as they can put it into mine. It’s about learning what that line is, though. So I’ll always start from a respectful position of taking my time. I’m not going to go out there and get into everybody or any of that. It’s about learning what the limit is on what’s acceptable. Also, then, getting comfortable with the car and getting faster. I’m sure you mean a little bit of the driving aggressively and also the speed. I’m sure everybody amps up their game for the big day. So, for me, it’s going to come through experience and practice and figuring it out.”
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