Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, met with members of the media at Phoenix International Raceway and discussed her success at Daytona, expectations for weekend at Phoenix, comparison of her first Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 and other topics.
TALK ABOUT YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR PHOENIX THIS WEEKEND: “It was nice to come here at the end of the season, and race in the Cup race. It was also nice to have Tony Gibson as my crew chief. I feel like it will give us a good baseline of where we need to start setup-wise for the weekend, so we can kind of pickup where we left off. I feel like we were pretty decent at the end of the race. Is qualifying on the pole, and leading laps what we should be thinking based on last weekend? No. I think we need to…I need to keep realistic expectations, and I think everybody else does too. Daytona is a very unique place, and this is kind of where the bulk of the season really starts. Things like being able to get up-to-speed quickly; knowing what I want in the car; how to push it to its limit and what its limit is are things that are going to begin to be tested now. That’s something that you don’t really face at Daytona.”
CAN I TAKE YOU BACK TO INDIANAPOLIS IN ’05 VERSUS AFTER THE RACE AT DAYTONA? OBVIOUS DISAPPOINTMENT FOR WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN; BUT WHEN YOU LOOK AT HOW YOU HAVE IMPROVED AS A DRIVER IN BOTH SERIES, WHAT DO YOU TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR PROGRESS? “They really are very similar in a sense with my first Indy 500 and my first…wasn’t my first Daytona 500, but my first year full-time in the Series with the whole pole position potential. And with leading in the race, and being fast, and being a contender then kind of losing it a little bit at the very, very end. Very similar. I feel like now days having the experience that I had in IndyCar, and understanding how media works. What it is like to be busy, and do a lot of interviews and a lot of things outside of the car. And also building a great team helps me manage and tolerate all of that is very different than it was back in 2005. I kind of feel like it is another weekend now. Last weekend was what it was. But we’re moving on, and maybe perhaps in 2005 it was kind of a little bit of an ongoing excitement level, and hope for me. But I think I’m a little more mature now to know that these things come; they go. We’re going to have great weekends like maybe last weekend. And we’re going to have bad ones. I don’t know where they are going to pop up, but I don’t doubt that they will. I just feel more mature to be able to handle all of it.”
THERE ARE 13 NAMES ON THE LIST OF DRIVERS WHO HAVE LED THE INDIANAPOLIS 500 AND THE DAYTONA 500. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BE ON THAT LIST? “When I heard that statistic. Joe (Crowley, public relations) is a wealth of knowledge, and knew that when we were walking back from pit lane after the race. He then sent me more information about who had led more than five laps, and things like that. So, I got more information beyond that. He’s going to have to become one of the historians of IndyCar and of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and maybe of NASCAR as well. But anyway, enough about Joe (LAUGHS). It is a statistic like that, that I personally I felt was the biggest one from the weekend. To look at the list of names, and to fall under them; while I’m honored to be a first woman to do something; those are great. You can’t take those away. A first is always wonderful. But, to fall into a historical statistic that is small, that is a small group, along with other drivers, and have it not be about being a male or a female, that is something that I aspire to as a driver. I hope that when I am done racing that people remember me as a great driver. And, if they remember me as a great girl driver, that’s fine too. But, I hope they remember as a great driver, and a list of others. I feel like that is one of those statistics that’s just genderless, and that’s pretty neat for me.”
THIS WILL BE YOUR SECOND TIME IN THE CUP CAR HERE AT PHOENIX. IN THE NATIONWIDE CAR, DID YOU NOTICE THE TRACK’S CHANGING A LOT FROM THE FIRST TIME TO THE SECOND TIME YOU WERE THERE, AND SO ON? HOW MUCH SHOULD WE EXPECT THAT BECAUSE YOU RAN WELL HERE IN NOVEMBER? “I would say that tended to happen wherever I went. I felt like it was a little bit more about being a new track to me more than anything. The first to the second time is still going to show a steeper incline in performance, than perhaps the sixth to the seventh time. But Phoenix is one of those places that, man, even in the Nationwide car, I just couldn’t get the hang of it. I came here many times, and continued to kind of suck. I feel like at the end of the year was more of a breakthrough in the Nationwide car, and also in the Cup car, it was a good weekend. The best weekend I’d had in a Cup car. I really think that is what led me to want to do more double duty weekends this year. Haven’t been able to work that out yet. But, I think that driving both of the cars really just keeps you sharp. I feel like I have practiced the Cup car, it helped in the Nationwide car. Then when I had done the Nationwide race, I really felt like it led to helping in the Cup race. I think that was probably also a big contributor to why last year at the end of the year it was a good weekend.”
WHAT WAS YOUR DEBRIEF LIKE WITH TONY STEWART (CAR OWNER) AFTER DAYTONA 500, WHEN YOU WERE PERHAPS KICKING YOURSELF OVER THE FINISH OF THE RACE? WHAT IS HE TELLING YOU ABOUT PHOENIX? “I was. I was disappointed at the end of the race that I just didn’t have a better grasp as to what I needed to do to shoot for a better finish than where I was. Although….if they had just thrown that yellow, you know? Third. But you have to finish the race, I understand. That’s good for the sport when we finish under green. It makes it exciting. It really helped teach me. I feel like what happens at the end of the race and how to set them up. (Dale Earnhardt) Junior is really good at those big speedway races and knowing how to set things up. But, I just felt like…I was just frustrated that I didn’t have a better plan. Tony told me that he really thought that…he said ‘I really feel like you had more to lose in your position, than you had to gain by trying something. So I think that you did the right thing’. So that made me feel better – a little bit. Was I still mad that I went from third to eighth on the lap? No, I was still disappointed in it. But to have somebody like Tony Stewart say something to me like that was very kind, and it put it in perspective. I also Jimmie (Johnson) he did a nice job. We had a little conversation, and I said to him…he told me I did a nice job too. And I said I had wished I had a better plan, but thank you and I have a lot to learn. He said that the two wins he had, he didn’t have a plan, and sometimes you just have to take it on the fly and work with what happens in the moment. He very kindly later that day, at the end of the day said he’d seen the end of the race, and said, in his opinion, the only thing I could have done was back up to Junior when he backed up, but as far as what happened on the back straight when Junior went low, in his opinion, he thought I did the right thing. So to have somebody like Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson tell me that on some level I made good decisions out there at the very end, was a really nice thing for them to say. It makes me feel a little bit better. I still feel like I want to have a better plan in the future, but in that moment that I had made some good decisions. So, it was appreciated.
“When we had our competition meeting about the race, and we all kind of talked about what we were thinking going into Phoenix, and the track, and what issues we’d had from the year before. I feel like collaboratively we all had similar feelings. It’s always nice when we have the same opinion on what is about to happen the next weekend based on what we felt the year before. Hopefully we’ll be…we just want to be better in qualifying. That is my personal goal for the weekend is to be able to improve from last year in the qualifying. Have a better run and feel good about it instead of being sideways in three and four (turns) and not qualifying very well. That’s what I’ll be working towards in this one session we have.”
COMPARE THE IMPORTANCE OF WHERE YOU ACTUALLY FINISH ON SUNDAY, VERSUS HOW MUCH YOU LEARN AND GROW ON FRIDAY, SATURDAY AND THROUGHOUT THE RACE ON SUNDAY? “I feel like the both lead to good things. If you learn and grow, you are going to finish better. That learning curve is different for everyone, which is why it is difficult to say where I should be at a certain point in time because you just don’t know at what point in time that an athlete or driver something is going to click and make sense, and you figure something out, and get more comfortable. I guess I would say the most important thing overall, if you look at the big picture, is to learn and grow. Good races and good finishes can just happen, and sometimes you don’t know why. Sometimes it’s because of other people’s misfortunes, your luck – which is a big part of the sport. But, learning is something that is going to pay off over time far more than being lucky one weekend.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR MINDSET AND CONFIDENCE COMING OUT OF DAYTONA IS THIS YEAR COMPARED TO WHAT YOU DEALT WITH LAST YEAR? “Completely different. It was a very difficult year last year at Daytona. It had the high of qualifying on the pole in the Nationwide race to having an accident with my teammate in the race. Then falling out of the Duel and the 500 at the worst possible times. It’s a nice reminder. I was hoping going into Daytona that I would be due a good weekend in Daytona, and sure enough it was. I feel like last year, maybe that frustration and exhaustion kind of spilled over into a couple of days of work during Phoenix week that I had to do to the weekend. Coming here again in the Nationwide car for the third or fourth time and being like 20th, and just feeling really kind of bad about myself, and storming off from all of you from pit lane, and deciding that I didn’t finish well enough to answer any questions. It is a different perspective. I feel just a little more mature. I feel like even if it would have been a weekend, I was more prepared to handle it. But, at this point in time, understanding that it is a whole new race, completely different track, and this is when the real season starts. Maybe I guess coming away feeling a little bit more calm; or humble; or understanding the ebb and flow of racing. I think that comes from having a good team around me that helps me understand that we are going to have good and back weekends, and we are going to stay together no matter what happens.”