Q and A With: Danica Patrick
Not surprisingly, it was a part-time Sprint Cup driver who attracted the biggest crowds during Thursday’s Speedweeks Media Day at Daytona International Speedway.
The driver was Danica Patrick, who will drive a handful of races for Stewart-Haas Racing in the Cup series, and a full season for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series.
Because SHR was able to cut a deal for owner points, Patrick is locked into the 500 field and will attempt to become the first female driver to win stock-car racing’s biggest event.
During her interview session Patrick talked about the 500, racing for Tony Stewart, sexism in racing, demands on her time and a variety of other subjects.
What follows is the full transcript of her Media Day session:
TREVOR BAYNE PROVED LAST YEAR THAT A NEWCOMER CAN WIN THIS RACE. WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO WIN THIS RACE? “Luck. I have a fast car so I think that’s taken care of but I think it’s going to take some good breaks and a patient race, staying out of trouble. You know it would be nice to kind of keep toward the front. I’ve found that when you are up near the front away from the thick of things you’re much less likely to be caught in an accident that smoke is filled the air to and you can’t miss or you can’t see. But I think luck is going to play a big factor.”
AND ITS GOING TO BE MORE OF A PACK RACE THAN A TANDUM RACE SO HOW MUCH OF THAT IS GOING TO COME INTO PLAY FOR YOU? “You’re going to have to make sure you stay in touch with the pack. If you lose the pack you are in trouble. But then I think you’re still going to be able to do some tandem to catch back up if that’s the case and at the end of the day I believe what is going to win the race is something tandem. The accidents might be bigger again just because everybody is closer but hopefully it’s exciting for the fans. I know they have asked for pack racing back and I know it looks visually much more interesting and it’s fine. We did some pack racing in testing a few weeks ago and I think everybody enjoyed it.”
WILL TONY (STEWART) BE YOUR TANDUM PARTNER, HAVE YOU FIGURED THAT OUT YET? “I don’t know you should ask Tony that. I think partly it just depends on where you are at on the track and are you near each other to make that tandem happen. I would love to run with Tony I know that much. I have no problem running with Ryan (Newman) either but Tony and I ran really well in the summer race. I’m sure that given all situations I could learn a lot from him.”
BUT THEY’RE NOT YOUR TEAMMATES. “They’re essentially not my teammates but they are my teammates for the big picture and that’s the reason why they are kind of not my teammates right now is for the big picture.”
HOW ARE YOU MEASURING YOURSELF FOR A SUCCESSFUL RACE FOR YOU, TOP-FIVE, TOP-10? “I think that with a race like Daytona, well first off it’s the Daytona 500 and everybody wants to win it of course. It’s just going to depend on the looking back at the picture of the race and did you run up front at all, what happened, did I make any mistakes, but let’s face it great drivers don’t have great big speedway races because it depends on so many other factors like the tandem running or like staying in touch with the pack or like a pit stop or something like that or staying out of trouble. Like I said you can get caught in an accident that you just couldn’t see through to miss and your day is over. So I don’t think there is a position that you can put on a race like this because it’s wide open for various levels of experienced drivers to do well. Ultimately we all want to win but at the end of the day it’s going to depend on probably looking back at the race and assessing my mistake level probably.”
WHAT’S YOUR COMFORT LEVEL GOING INTO SPEEDWEEKS, OBVIOUSLY IT’S NOT YOUR FIRST RODEO EVEN THOUGH IT’S YOUR FIRST 500? “I feel good. I think that if I had not experienced all the media crazy around this whole part of things it would have been somewhat overwhelming or maybe at least I would have felt like there’s a lot to do and there is but once you’ve had a little practice at it you know how it works. My whole team knows how it works and how to organize everything so it’s done effectively and efficiently. But I feel good, let’s not forget I’ve been exposed to the Indy 500 which is one of the biggest races in the world if not the biggest race in the world and there’s lots of media around that too and lots of hype for kind of like this an extended period of time but you know it’s definitely good to have had the experience I had in Nationwide part-time leading to a full-time year.”
BECAUSE OF THE POINTS BEING APPLIED TO YOUR CAR, HOW MUCH ARE YOU GOING TO BE PULLING FOR DAVID REUTIMANN IN THOSE RACES THAT YOU ARE NOT PART OF? “For sure a lot. I’m definitely going to hope that David has good races and that he finishes well or finishes. I think that’s always a hope when it’s a car that you’re going to be running and points that you’re going to be sharing. I’m sure the other is quite true as well. He’s going to hope when I get in the car that I do okay as well. So a fair assessment.”
HOW MUCH OF A TRANSITION IS IT NOW TO TECHNICALLY BE RUNNING FOR ANOTHER TEAM OTHER THAN STEWART-HAAS? “At this point and time it’s not been much it’s really just been exposure to the teams themselves, Stewart-Haas and Tommy Baldwin and working together. I think moving forward now that we’re here at the race track I think it’s just going to be added information and perspective and more teammates to talk to. I think it’s just going to be upside from here on out.”
WHEN YOU MADE THE JUMP OVER HERE TO THIS WORLD YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY GIVING UP A LOT OF YOUR FREE TIME AND THERE’S A LOT OF PRESSURES. HOW MUCH OF THAT WEIGHED INTO YOUR DECISION? “Back a few years ago I definitely was concerned with the work load that NASCAR schedules bring but the last two years I went from doing a 16 – 18 race season to about 30 and now it’s going to be about 34 or 35 weekends so it’s really only an extra month worth of weekends so it’s much more tolerable than jumping from Indy Car to NASCAR in one jump. So I’m feeling pretty comfortable with it and it’s not a big deal. Oddly enough if it’s at all possible I’m ready to go.”
DO YOU FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE WITH ALL THE DEMANDS NOW THAN SAY A YEAR AGO? “Yeah, and I think that comes from learning how it works and getting comfortable and familiar. I’m very good when I know what’s coming. When I get surprised and things getting added on the schedule is when I get frustrated because expectation levels are everything for me. But not only from my perspective am I more comfortable now but from my assistant’s perspective and the help she gets from Junior Motorsports and Stewart-Hass, I think we all have a much better picture of how to do everything and how to keep it in line and how to help you folks do your job.”
DO YOU SURPRISE YOURSELF AT ALL WITH HOW WELL YOU’VE HANDLED IT? “I don’t know. What’s surprised me is just how much I truly enjoy driving these cars. That sounds super cheesy I’m sure, you probably all think I’m lying but I never thought I would like driving these cars as much as I do.”
WITH PACK RACING A LOT OF VETERAN DRIVERS OFTEN GO STRAIGHT TO THE BACK OF THE PACK AND HANG OUT AND LET THE RACE PLAY ITSELF OUT AND WITH ABOUT 30 LAPS TO GO THEY START MAKING THEIR WAY BACK TO THE FRONT. DO YOU FEEL CONFIDENT ENOUGH WITH YOUR SKILL LEVEL THAT YOU CAN DO THAT? “I think that for me as a rookie and as a young driver without much experience with some of these guys and any with some of these guys, when I pull out of line to go it’s not like Tony Stewart pulling out of line to go. There are people that are probably going to more so be confident with him and go with him if he pulls out of line to go to the front than myself. I think if it gets to be a pack race and I’m in the back at the end I think it can be a little bit more of a struggle than if it was a tandem-style racing just because if its tandem all I have to do is either push or lead the way and someone is right there. I think it can be a little more difficult for me but that’s nothing any other driver has not had to deal with and if that’s the case then I’ll just try and be smart and make up the most spots I can.”
DOES EVERYBODY HAVE AN IDEA YET OF WHAT THE PERCENTAGE MIGHT BE, PACK-RACING VERSES TANDEM? “I don’t know what changes they’ve made since the test we did a few weeks ago but there was a lot of tandem running being done so I don’t know. I think you will find a lot of drivers and especially you’ll find a lot of veterans that want to do pack racing and they are going to hang out like that and there will probably be a lot of running like that. But you will also find some people and you might even find a couple of groups of people that hook up and get away and then do their own pack running for a while just to make the group smaller. I think that it just depends on who is where, yellow flags and things like that or long green-flag runs. I think there is probably going to be more than two percent tandem racing but we’ll see.”
NOW THAT YOU ARE FULLY ENGAGED IN NASCAR, AND NOT RUNNING THE INDY 500, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PAIN THAT HITS YOU IN MAY WHEN YOU KNOW YOU ARE RACING IN CHARLOTTE VERSES AT THE INDY 500? “I’m sure when May comes around I will definitely be a little sad that I’m not there and at least thinking about what’s going on and curious about what’s going on. I still find myself curious about what’s going on, I can’t just drop the thoughts of open-wheel racing form one month to the next. So I still keep up with what’s happening and what’s going on over there. I’m sure the curiosity will dwindle as my work load grows here but once May comes around I’ll be curious. I’ll be paying attention. I’ll be paying attention to the teams and who’s running well and which car is running well and which manufacturer but especially with teams. I’ll be paying attention throughout the year.”
YOU HAVEN’T CLOSED THE DOOR THERE? “No, no. I just am not doing it this year. With the Iowa race being on Sunday of the qualifying weekend, I’ve been on the great side of qualifying and I’ve been on the terrible side of qualifying and it might be done on Saturday but if it’s not done until Sunday at the gun shot then that means I’m having to compromise in one place and unfortunately the one that going to get compromised is the Indy 500 because I’m focusing on the Nationwide Series. You can’t really put that sort of situation into play and not be able to follow through on everything.”
TALK ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH TONY AND HOW YOUR PERSONALITIES MESH. “Well Tony likes to have fun, I like to have fun. Gosh that’s a really dumb thing, don’t we all like to have fun?”
TONY’S HABITS ARE A LITTLE BIT MORE HARD CORE THAN YOUR’S THOUGH. “He doesn’t drink wine; well I drink a lot of wine. Maybe I’ll have to tune him into that.”
HE ALSO EATS A LOT OF FAST FOOD. “Yeah, I don’t eat a lot of fast food. Maybe I can be helpful and he can be helpful to me. Loosen up, tighten up. I think we just kind of have the same sense of humor. He’s a little bit more, like we were at the race shop and he just decided he was going to take a little, it was brake cleaner probably and a propane tank, and anyway he has a lot of fun with the things that he does. He’s a little more aggressive with his fun but I just think we both enjoy the banter that comes. In a setting like this with the media, we’ve done plenty of things where we’ve been in front of media and in front of an audience and the way that we’re able to joke around with each other in those kinds of settings I think fits really well. We have a lot of fun with it instead of looking at it as a lot of work. We just enjoy it. I’m sure even at the end of last year with all you guys asking all those questions about the Chase and the end of the championship, that’s fun. That’s fun for us. We enjoy ourselves and make the most of it.”
YOU’VE BEEN AROUND A MALE-DOMINATED SPORT FOR A LONG TIME. ARE THERE STILL SEXIST REMARKS THAT YOU HEAR OR ARE THOSE DAYS OVER? “I think probably until its 50/50 girls and boys you’re going to hear some of that. The only thing that makes me a little bit curious and maybe you guys can answer this question in some way but you know it’s like if there is a pretty girl they don’t know how to describe a pretty girl other than being sexy and it has such a negative connotation to it. You don’t say those kinds of things to frame it like that for a guy or even sometimes talk about it but it seems like with female athletes if they are pretty they only know how to describe them in a sexual way. I don’t care but I just wonder why we can’t talk about it in a different way. Why can’t there be other words for it. Why does it have to be somewhat negatively twisted?”
WHAT WOULD BE A GOOD WORD? “You guys are the ones with the words. You guys are the wordsmith’s. I’m not a wordsmith. Just something without the word sex in it.”
DO YOU THINK YOU CAN WIN THE DAYTONA 500? “Do I think I can win the Daytona 500? Yeah.”
DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE A BETTER SHOT AT WINNING THE DAYTONA 500 MAYBE THAN THE INDY 500 IN THE PAST? “No, I don’t think so. I think with the Indy 500 there’s all the work that goes up to it. There’s the team that you drive for, there’s the race car that you’ve worked on and made handle the way you want it to. I think there’s a little more luck in certain ways with the Daytona 500 just because of the style of racing that it is. There is no bad driver that wins the Daytona 500 that’s for sure but things have to fall your way and you’ve got to stay out of trouble that might not have even been your making so I just think there is a little more of a luck side involved with it and you can’t account for that.”
HOW BIG IS THE NATIONWIDE RACE FOR YOU? “There is very little Nationwide testing here and I thought to myself what a wonderful thing I’m doing the Daytona 500 because the cars in my lack of experience I didn’t notice the difference between the two cars, I didn’t drive them back to back. But when I came and tested a few weeks ago it feels very similar to a Nationwide car so I think it’s going to be great practice for the Nationwide race. It’s something to keep in mind for the future too, the race preparing me for the race the next day as well with the Nationwide race. I think the Cup practice is going to be great for the Nationwide race and I think the Nationwide race is going to help a lot for the next day for the Daytona 500.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS THAT OPENER FOR YOU SINCE YOU ARE RUNNING FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP? “Well the opener is very important. As Tony Jr. (Eury) has told me the first 10 races really set the stage and set the pace for the rest of the year. It’s like being in school, you get a couple of bad grades on your first few tests and it just seems you can’t get out of that hole and it’s always the same. If you can start the year off well, have great test results at the very beginning it seems like you just kind of hang up there. So hopefully it’s a good start to the year and we can feel good about it.”
HOW IMPORTANT WOULD IT BE FOR YOU TO WIN THE NATIONWIDE CHAMPIONSHIP? “Gosh it would be really, really great to win the Nationwide championship especially with moving forward it’s always nice to know that you have accomplished on a certain level before you go to the next. Is it critical? No but it would be really nice. More than anything what it signifies and also that it’s going to mean you are probably running up front every weekend and you’ve won some races and I would sure as heck like to win some races.”
IS THERE IRONY YOU COULD BE CONTENDING FOR IT WITH SAM HORNISH? “It’s a lot of fun. Oh I’ve got fenders now Sammy.”One Comment