The last time Danica Patrick competed in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, Memorial Day weekend was in full swing and kids around the United States were preparing for the annual summer break from school.
Now entering late August, kids are heading back to the classroom and Patrick is heading back to Sprint Cup competition as her “summer break” from NASCAR’s top series is over. She’ll return to the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
It will mark Patrick’s fourth career Sprint Cup race and her first since the Coca-Cola 600 in May at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, where she started 40th and finished 30th after completing 395 of 400 laps.
Patrick will compete in seven of the final 13 Sprint Cup events in preparation for a full-time Sprint Cup schedule in 2013. And while she and the GoDaddy.com Chevrolet team will look to achieve the best possible results, it’s what they will learn and be able to use in the future that will be most important during this final stretch of the 2012 season.
This week’s race at Bristol will be Patrick’s first Sprint Cup outing on a concrete surface and, while she will look to build a database of information for her return trips to Bristol, there is also the goal of learning something useful for the upcoming AAA 400 Sprint Cup event at the concrete “Monster Mile” oval at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
With two previous NASCAR Nationwide Series starts at Bristol, Patrick is familiar with the .533-mile concrete oval. But in addition to competing in a Sprint Cup car for the first time, Patrick will also learn to drive the “new” surface at Bristol.
The top lane will not be usable through the turns after track officials had it milled following the NASCAR weekend in March. So, instead of three racing lanes, the track now has only two grooves in the turns, creating tighter confines for the 43 competitors and the intended result of added bumping and banging throughout the night.
It’s all part of the continuing education for Patrick as she makes the difficult transition from INDYCAR to NASCAR.
And with limits on testing, there is nothing more important than getting seat time and turning as many laps as possible. And, with 18 races in the next three months in NASCAR’s top two series (11 Nationwide, seven Sprint Cup) the education will be accelerated.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet:
What are your overall thoughts on Bristol?
“I’m looking forward to going to Bristol. I’ve look forward to going there every single time. It’s been a track I’ve enjoyed because of the banking in the corners. It’s going to be more challenging now without the top line. It’s going to make it a little more bump-and-go kind of racing, which could still be fun as long as I’m the one bumping (laughs). I’m looking forward going there with the Cup car because, every time I run the Cup car, I feel like the Nationwide car stuff goes better. So, hopefully, we can get our first really great result on a short track.”
Your luck has not been great the last few weeks in the Nationwide Series. How do you overcome that?
“It’s part of it. It’s frustrating. It definitely can get you down and it does get you down a little bit. I feel like, with the very consistent schedule that keeps coming at you, you need to have a positive attitude and look at each weekend as the weekend it could turn around and the weekend that you could have great luck and come back from the last one. It’s really easy. I did it at the beginning of the year. You get down and get a little negative and that carries over to next weekend and things just get worse. And it can really spiral in a pretty bad direction pretty quickly and easily in NASCAR, with how many races there are and how often you’re on track. You just have to keep at it. If we were just slow everywhere, then I think that would almost be worse than being knocked out or having issues or making mistakes. Once you can get on a good, consistent pace, where you’re making good decisions not making mistakes and luck comes your way, you’re ready to go.”
Can you assess the 2011 Nationwide Series season for you thus far?
“One thing I’m always pleased to see is how much overall speed we’ve picked up from last year and the year before. In practice, I would struggle to get in the top-20, and now I feel like we’re almost always inside the top-10, if not top-five, sometimes. That’s a very positive sign moving forward for me because I’m figuring out how to get speed out of the car and work on the car. Qualifying has improved. That was another thing, just getting that race experience. I really feel like a lot of stuff has gone in the right direction. Now, I feel like I’ve definitely made mistakes, for sure. There’s definitely been a hefty amount of bad luck. At the end of the day, I find it far more important – of course I’d love to get results – but as the whole, looking long-term into the future, the most important thing I can do this year is learn, get experience and be prepared for next year.”
Notes of Interest:
- The Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway will mark Danica Patrick’s fourth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start. Her first came in February’s rain-delayed 54th Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, where she finished 38th, having completed only 138 of 202 laps after being involved in a multi-car accident not of her making on lap three.
- Patrick has career totals of one top-five finish, four top-10s, 55 laps led and one pole in 47 career NASCAR Nationwide Series races.
- In 2012 Nationwide Series competition, Patrick has one pole (Daytona) and a best finish of eighth, which came in April at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. She led once for a race-high 20 laps last week at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal until mechanical problems caused her to go to the garage for repairs. She finished 27th, six laps down.
- Patrick has never competed at Bristol in a Sprint Cup car, but she has two starts in the Nationwide Series. She finished 19th in March at the .533-mile oval.
- Four Score: In March 2011, Patrick finished fourth in the Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the best-ever finish by a woman in a NASCAR national stock-car series, topping a fifth-place run by Sarah Christian in a Sprint Cup race in 1949 at Heidelberg (Pa.) Raceway.
- History Maker: Patrick became the first woman to win a major-league open-wheel race in a North American series in April 2009 by winning the IZOD IndyCar Series Indy Japan 300 at the Twin Ring Motegi oval in Japan.
- Point Taken: In 2009, Patrick finished fifth in IZOD IndyCar Series points, the best finish ever for a woman in the series.
- Big Stage: In seven Indianapolis 500 starts, Patrick finished in the top-10 six times, including a third-place result in 2009, the best finish ever for a woman in the historic race.