Racing on Memorial Day weekend will be nothing new for Danica Patrick. But for 2012, the car, location, track length and distance will be brand new for the Go Daddy Girl.
For the past seven years on Memorial Day weekend, Patrick has competed in the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And nowhere did Patrick perform better than in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” She burst onto the scene at Indy in May 2005 when she stunned the world by leading three times for 19 laps and finishing fourth in her first “500” – becoming the first woman to lead laps and score a top-five finish in the historic race.
She set numerous records during her Indianapolis 500 debut and set the tone early when she posted the fastest lap on the opening day of practice. She went on to set the fastest practice lap five times throughout the month – more than any other driver – including Pole Day and Carburetion Day.
Patrick’s practice lap of 229.880 mph on Pole Day was the fastest of any driver during the month and the fastest turned by any woman in the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. During her qualification attempt, Patrick made an impressive save as her car bobbled in turn one on her first lap, earning her rave reviews for her car control by longtime Speedway observers. She ended up qualifying fourth, the best-ever starting position for a woman in the race.
On race day, with 11 laps remaining in the 200-lap event, Patrick blew past leader Dan Wheldon and held the point until lap 194, when she was forced to slow down in order to conserve fuel to make it to the finish. Her efforts earned her Rookie of the Year honors.
Patrick scored six top-10 finishes in seven starts at Indianapolis and qualified 10th or better five times. Her third-place result in 2009 is the best finish ever for a woman in the history of the Indianapolis 500.
This Sunday will be different for Patrick, though, as she’ll watch the start of the Indianapolis 500 on television from her motorhome as she prepares to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
The driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet will compete in a race that is 100 miles longer than the Indianapolis 500, starts six hours later than the “500” and takes place on a 1.5-mile high-banked oval rather than a 2.5-mile nearly flat rectangle.
It will be part of the continuing education for Patrick as she transitions from INDYCAR to NASCAR, much like Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) owner-driver Tony Stewart did more than a decade ago.
And while it will be different for Patrick, she’s hoping the success she had at Indianapolis follows her south.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet:
Can you talk about your season thus far in the Nationwide Series and your limited Sprint Cup Series schedule?
“I think it’s been an up-and-down season. There have been times where we caught some bad luck, there have been times where we’ve had disappointing races, and there have been some times where we’ve been good and things just didn’t happen right. I think there also have been times where some great things have happened but, unfortunately, all the great things that happened haven’t materialized into a great result in the race. Sometimes it’s a good qualifying effort, sometimes it’s being really good in practice, just doing things I wasn’t doing before.”
Two weeks ago at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, one of the toughest tracks on the circuit, you finished both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races and gained valuable seat time. How important was that for your confidence and development?
“I think Darlington was one of those weekends that could have confirmed opinions, or sort of developed new ones for people. And I think it ‘developed new ones’ more than it confirmed if someone didn’t think I was doing a good job. I think just the difficulty of the race, being there for the first time and putting a doubleheader on top of it in addition to the Nationwide race – I went into it basically knowing it was going to be difficult. I was plenty worried and disappointed after the first practice in Cup because I was last. A lot of people said ‘good job’ and I appreciate it because, let’s face it, I had a 12th and a 31st. But I appreciate it and it means that a lot of people with experience are watching, and it did go well for the circumstances, so it was a little bit of a confidence-booster.
Thoughts on missing the Indianapolis 500 this year after seven consecutive years of racing in the event?
“I watched qualifying last weekend when I had the chance during down time at Iowa. I’m happy for James Hinchcliffe and the GoDaddy team for qualifying second. It’s obviously great to see the GoDaddy car up front. I always want my sponsor to win. That’s the most important thing for me is that they are finding benefit in the things that they do and business is growing. I’m happy to see the green up front and I’m sure GoDaddy is, too.”
What’s it like not being at Indianapolis this month?
“The first time I really thought about it was last weekend. I was curious what was going on with Pole Day. Of course I was curious. I spent my whole childhood watching open-wheel racing. I went to England to race open-wheel and then came back to the States and raced open-wheel. So, it was my world for 20 years. I’ve been watching it for most of my life. I watch it and I think, ‘I know how to do it.’ I feel like I know Indy, I know what it takes to be fast. Every year I learned valuable lessons about how to be better next time and I felt like I learned a really big one last year. Hopefully that means sometime in the future I’ll get to use that.”
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.”
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, MSN, and Fox Sports
A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; and he’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.
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