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Danica Ready To Settle Down After ‘Standing Up’

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 2 2012

Danica Patrick's Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway ended with self-inflicted damages to her race car. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

FORT WORTH, Texas – Danica Patrick will huddle-up with crew chief/mentor Tony Gibson for the first time Friday morning at Texas Motor Speedway, where her new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief likely will address a lingering issue.

That would be Mr. Landon Cassill, the Cup driver who became a YouTube curiosity when Patrick sent him crashing into a wall during the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 21.

“You know, I think the best thing to move on with news is to start racing again,” Patrick said after a promotional appearance here Thursday in advance of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500. “I’m sure I’ll get questions about the finish to my Kansas week throughout the weekend, but the best thing I can do is just get on the track and get going and make another storyline.”

In what went down as a premeditated attack, Patrick and Cassill were running in close quarters near the mid-point of the race on the repaved 1.5-mile Kansas quadoval. That’s when Patrick moved in on Cassill’s rear bumper and sent him sideways. Ironically, Patrick’s No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet Impala was severely damaged when she slid to the bottom of the track and hooked around on the apron – slamming the car head-on into the wall.

Patrick – who wrecked the car she had planned to run on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval this weekend – criticized the 23-year-old driver of the No. 83 Burger King Toyota Camry for a “consistent” pattern of contact with her.

“Reflecting back on Kansas, the Nationwide race was fanstastic,” said Patrick, who finished 10th in the Kansas Lottery 300 with crew chief Ryan Pemberton. “The Cup race we were coming along during the race, and obviously it didn’t end the way that I would have wanted it to do (32nd-place finish). But I still think it was important for me to stand up for myself, and I wouldn’t change it. I would change my execution of the actual incident. I didn’t do a

Danica Patrick and Landon Cassill were side-by-side at Kansas but were not exactly good buddies. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

very good job with that, but I guess there’s only one way to learn is to try. It’s just not that easy to take someone out.”

Cassill, a series regular with BK Motorsports, would agree. His comment on the two-radio after the incident was cryptic: “Rule No. 1 in stock car racing is learn how to wreck someone without wrecking yourself.”

Asked if she had since reached out to Cassill, Patrick said she had texted him. “I left it,” said Patrick, 30. “I think that if he wants to talk to me, fine. I don’t really have much to say, I guess. I think the actions speak louder than the words, to be honest.

“I just think it was an important step in earning respect and moving forward, is to stand up for myself, and hopefully we won’t have to do much of that anymore.”

Greg Zipadelli, who has served as crew chief for the first eight of Patrick’s hand-selected Cup starts with Stewart-Haas Racing, scolded Danica over her team radio for a heat-of-the-moment decision. Zipadelli, competition director at SHR, reminded Patrick that she squandered valuable seat time at Kansas as she prepares for a fulltime Cup season in 2013.

That season now will be overseen by Gibson, who has left Ryan Newman’s No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet to settle-in as Patrick’s crew chief for her final two Cup races of 2012. Matt Borland, vice president of competition at SHR, was reunited with Newman last weekend at Martinsville, Va. Borland served as Newman’s crew chief for five years at Penske Racing (2002-06), racking-up 12 victories and a staggering 37 pole positions.

“Zippy has been a fantastic crew chief for me,” said Patrick, who has yet to lead a Cup lap. “He’s got tons of experience and all I really could do is listen and try and learn from him. And with now the change to Tony Gibson, I feel like he always has listened to me, he’s been really respectful and I get along with him great.

“He almost has like a little bit of that Tony Eury Jr. (her former NNS crew chief) characteristic of ‘good ol’ boy’ _ but he’s very smart. And just even the information that I got before this weekend started of what to expect with the weekend itself and the car and the data and the information. He’s a really sharp guy and I look forward to getting on with our relationship – with the work that we have to do – because we have a big job ahead of us, and it’s nice to get started now.”

Patrick’s 10-race Cup schedule, selected by SHR co-owner and three-time/reigning series champion Tony

Crew chief Tony Gibson will be giving instructions to Danica Patrick this weekend in Texas. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Stewart, will conclude on the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 11. Danica’s best Cup start has been 29th in the season-opening Daytona 500 on the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. Her best Cup finish has been 25th at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway. Her Cup schedule mix also has included the egg-shaped Darlington Raceway and the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway.

“You know, it was great that Tony picked the difficult races because it got them out of the way,” Patrick said. “And they also built my confidence up, to be honest, because some of them went relatively well. So I think that makes me feel better moving forward into next year, and there will be a lot less stress going back to these places that are sort of daunting and unique, and I’ll be better for it.”

Zipadelli said Gibson’s positive attitude will be a definite benefit to Patrick, whose every move in the Nationwide and Cup series receives heavy media scrutiny.

“(Friday) will be the first day with Tony on the radio and I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Patrick said. “We’ve seen each other at test sessions a couple of times, and we’ve talked plenty. You know, I suppose I’ve gone through a few transitions of crew chiefs over the years, so you just get on with the job. I think with him, it’s even nice just knowing that we’re laying the groundwork for next year and getting that head start.”

Patrick will pull double duty this weekend at TMS, where she made eight starts during her IZOD IndyCar Series career from 2005-2011. Her best open-wheel start in the annual June night race was third as a series rookie in 2005, while her best finish was second in 2010. She exited the series having led three laps at TMS.

Danica will be competing in Saturday night’s NNS O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge as well as Sunday’s AAA Texas 500. Patrick, whose best Nationwide finish this season has been an eighth-place at TMS on April 13, will drive the No. 7 SEGA Sonic the Hedgehog/GoDaddy.com Chevy fielded by JR Motorsports. She is 10th in NNS points in a season featuring seven top-10 starts, 36 laps-led and three top-10 results.

Earlier, Patrick was greeted by 1,500 enthusiastic students from three nearby Northwest ISD elementary schools during a Turn 2 awards assembly for TMS’ “Speeding To Read” educational program. Patrick spoke with students and faculty from W.R. Hatfield, Clara Love and Justin elementary schools about the importance of reading, encouraging them to chase their dreams while sharing her early start and meteoric rise in motorsports.

“Speeding To Read” is an incentive-based, NASCAR-themed reading program created by Texas Motor Speedway to encourage elementary school students to read more frequently during the school year. Currently in its second year, the program has the three schools going head-to-head to determine the champions of the “Speeding To Read” competition as well as the top classrooms and individuals in two divisions (Kindergarten-2nd Grade and Grades 3-5). The competition is split into four quarters – or four turns like a speedway – with the students and schools being rewarded at each turn.

Patrick also donated several hardback copies of her autobiography, “Danica-Crossing the Line,” to each school’s library for all students to enjoy during the competition.

The three schools combined to read 92,908 books, including 49,192 during the Turn 2 segment. Hatfield unseated Turn 1 leader Clara Love and captured the lead in Turn 2 – midpoint of the competition – by reading 25,992 books with 84 percent of their students meeting their reading goals. Cathy Sager, Hatfield principal, was awarded the “Speeding To Read” trophy as Turn 2 leader to showcase in their school until the competition reaches Turn 3 in February.

“That was a really fun experience with all the kids,” Patrick said. “To see them get all excited about something maybe when you are growing up that you think, ‘Ah man, I have to read.’ But they make it fun and rewarding for the kids and it teaches them how to read. I feel the more you read when you’re younger, the more you read when you get older. That’s definitely been a highlight of the week, to see them cheering so much. They made me feel like I was Taylor Swift up there or something.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 2 2012
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