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Danica and Gibson Looking Good Together

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 28 2013

Danica Patrick and crew chief Tony Gibson appear to be hitting it off. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

Twenty years ago Tony Gibson was a fabricator and the gasman for Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 NASCAR Cup championship team. Danica Patrick was 10 years old.

Neither person knew the other existed and until last fall, it never seemed probable their career paths would cross. Yet, last October Stewart-Haas Racing decided Gibson and many of his crew would move from Ryan Newman to Patrick’s Sprint Cup effort. Newman, in turn, would be reunited with Matt Borland, Stewart-Haas Racing’s vice president of competition. Borland had been Newman’s crew chief for five years at Penske Racing where the duo produced 12 victories and 37 poles.

Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart and others in the organization thought it would be a good match, but, of course, there was no way to tell until the two were working together.

“It’s been even better than we thought,” Stewart said.

Such was the case at Daytona. Patrick earned the pole for the Sprint Cup Series most prestigious race – the Daytona 500 – and then led five laps before finishing eighth in the season opener.

With a lap of 196.434 mph, Patrick became the first woman to ever claim the No. 1 starting position for a Cup event in the series 64-year-history. Prior to her qualifying run in the series, created one year after NASCAR was founded, Janet Guthrie held the mark for the best qualifying run for a woman, starting ninth twice in 1977, first at Talladega and then at Bristol.

Patrick’s race performance resulted in her also becoming the first woman to lead laps in the event and post a top-10 finish. Previously, Guthrie owned the best finish by a woman in the Daytona 500 with an 11th in 1980.

“They get along and communicate well with each other,” Stewart said about Patrick and Gibson. “I’ve seen an excitement in Tony above and beyond what we’ve seen for a long time. I think he’s really happy to work with her and vice versa. She really likes working with him, so that’s a good base and a good foundation to build from.”

In two races at the end of the 2012 season, Patrick and Gibson posted a 24th-place finish at Texas and appeared to be headed for a 12th-place finish at Phoenix before becoming involved in a late-race accident that relegated her to 17th. Still, those were her two best finishes in a 10-race Sprint Cup schedule last year.

Most of Patrick’s crew members worked with Gibson at Dale Earnhardt Inc. A veteran of more than two decades in the sport, Gibson has a habit of calling his drivers “old man.” In fact, he’s already done it with Patrick. An apology quickly ensued, but Patrick told him she was glad he was comfortable enough to use that phrase with her.

“She can dish it out and she can take it. That part I like,” Gibson said.

Gibson, however, doesn’t hesitate to admit he was nervous about working with Patrick when the subject was broached with him last year.

“No matter who’s the driver, when they’re a rookie you’re always concerned about, are they really in this for the sport of racing,” Gibson explained. “You worry that they’re in it for the wrong reasons. When we first sat down and talked she really surprised me as to what she wants to accomplish in this sport, where she wants to be. She doesn’t want to play volleyball, she doesn’t want to play golf, she wants to race. I asked her what hobbies she had and she said racing. She told me this was where she wanted to be and this was what she wanted to do. That was what impressed me. She has the want to. She has the desire. Now you can work from there. The one thing that concerns me is she’s a little fireball; she has a temper on her. It’s my job to keep that under control.”

Most people wouldn’t expect Patrick, who’s raced internationally in open-wheel and made history in the Indianapolis 500, to work well with Gibson, a Daytona Beach, Fla., native who’s always worked in stock car racing and lived in the Southeast. It’s an environment, however, where Patrick is comfortable and she has asked her father why that’s the case. His response: Because the straight forward crew chiefs like Gibson don’t overthink things; they’re seat-of-the-pants kind of guys.

“I enjoy the less engineering side of things in NASCAR versus Indy Car,” Patrick said. “There’s definitely a lot of information there you can look at. Sometimes the best thing to do is get out there and get going. I also love the fact the crew chief has to trust me. I’m the only thing they have to go off of to make the car better. When it’s more comfortable for me I go faster.”

Gibson may not over-think the issues, but he is always thinking ahead and about what he needs to do to make the team successful. He believes Martinsville will be a “big challenge” for her, but then quickly notes it’s a challenge for any driver.

“The biggest concern I have is can she push the brake pedal for 500 miles at Martinsville over and over and over again,” Gibson said. “We get done with Ryan and his leg is worn out from pushing the brake pedal all day.”

The team already has had a test session as part of its preparation for Martinsville in early April. The crew has worked on master cylinder sizes, brake pad combinations, and caliper and piston sizes. Items that Gibson knows he doesn’t have time to change once he arrives for the weekend event.

“Martinsville is going to be one of those places that could be a real struggle for her,” Gibson continued. “Yet, she’s a really good road racer and road racers have the braking-throttle deal down where it’s finesse. So it could be not as hard as I think it’s going to be because she is such a good road racer.

“She’s meticulous and always thinking. She processes extremely quick and extremely well. All she needs is experience and time.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 28 2013
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