KANNAPOLIS, N.C., – Daytona Speedweeks seem so, so long ago. And that’s probably because it was a long, long time ago, given that around nine months have passed since the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season kicked off at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
Mitt Romney was still two months away from winning the Republican nomination for President of the United States, the 2012 World Series-champion San Francisco Giants had just started spring training, and Peyton Manning was still a member of the Indianapolis Colts when the racing season started.
So it’s hard to believe that Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, is about to complete the 10-race Sprint Cup Series schedule she embarked upon at the outset of 2012. The goals set forth by team owner Tony Stewart were simple: log laps and learn at the toughest tracks NASCAR has to offer.
And so Patrick has raced at places like Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Dover (Del.) International Speedway as she preps for a full-time Sprint Cup Series schedule in 2013.
There have been ups and downs but, throughout the year, Patrick has made steady progress in the Sprint Cup Series, including a career-best 24th-place finish last week at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Teamed with new crew chief Tony Gibson, who will be atop to the pit box for 2013, Patrick was in the top-20 late in the race at Texas and had one of her best outings of the season.
The final race of Patrick’s Sprint Cup Series season will be a bit of a “homestand” as Phoenix International Raceway, site of Sunday’s Advocare 500k, is about 30 miles west of her residence in Scottsdale, Ariz. Scottsdale is also home to her longtime sponsor GoDaddy.com.
While enjoying the comforts of home, it will also give Patrick one more race to work with Gibson before the duo begins racing with points on the line in 2013.
And before they know it, they’ll be back at Phoenix March 3 for the second race of the new season.
DANICA PATRICK, driver of the #10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet:
You worked with new crew chief Tony Gibson last week for the first time. Talk about that. “We had a really nice first weekend. It was really steady from the beginning. The car unloaded and it had speed right from the get-go. We just kept on improving with it. I felt like it was a nice progression of the weekend where I actually felt like I knew why I went faster and I knew why I went slower. In the race, we were creeping along. We spent most of the race tight, but there, late in the race, we finally got it freed up enough to start really running some good speed. Those yellows at the end, I just didn’t do a good enough job on those restarts and lost a whole bunch of spots. I always feel so defeated at the end of the race when that happens. It was a really nice first weekend with the new GoDaddy.com crew. Tony Gibson did such a good job. I’m really looking forward to next year.”
What lessons have you learned in your three years in NASCAR and are you getting comfortable here? “For me, I have just transitioned through quite a bit over these years. It was just coming every month or so into the car and doing a race and trying to get comfortable quickly after driving an IndyCar for a while. There was that transition for two years, then this being the first full-time year (in the Nationwide Series), then sort of sprinkling in some (Sprint) Cup races, then next year going full-time Cup. That is a lot of transitioning and a lot of changes and a lot of things to get used to, whether it’s new cars, new schedules or a new crew chief. It’s just been a lot to get used to, but I think it all helps me adapt more quickly. It helps me focus on being more specific with my words and being more poignant with what I want. There has been a lot I have learned, for sure, and I have a lot left to learn. Just understanding the cars and how they change from practice to the race, and how they change throughout the race. Those are things that are just so much more unique to NASCAR than they are to IndyCar, I feel. In IndyCar, you could set the car up in practice and it would feel the same in qualifying and the race, for the most part, when it came to adapting to weather changes, the downforce levels. To that, they were equal. You could calculate that. There is a lot more transitioning within the weekend itself in NASCAR. So, getting used to that has been something I’m still learning.”
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet:
Talk about working with Danica for the first time last weekend at Texas. “It was a great day and a great weekend for the first weekend working together. Qualifying went really well and practice went really well. She had an awesome race and she did a great job. We did the wave-around twice and got back on the lead lap early and she stayed on the lead lap. She ran with guys she’s never run with before – Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin. To go to Texas and run on the lead lap and have a shot at a top-20 was pretty impressive.”
How will you know if things are moving in the right direction next year, and what will be your expectations for Danica to know that she is improving? “Well, there’s no pressure on us. I think the communication will get better and smoother. Every driver I’ve ever had is different. Even (Tony) Stewart and (Ryan) Newman are totally different. The offsets that we had to do for Newman versus Stewart are just on the other side of the spectrum. Just learning those things for what she needs going into qualifying trim and, as the races go on, how do we adjust, and me learning the tone of her voice. I can tell from a driver, if the tone of his or her voice is getting higher and higher and higher, that it’s pretty serious. Those things we’re going to learn. For us, it’s all about learning and growing together. Like I told her, we’re going to set small goals and achievable goals for us. Whether it’s by the end of practice and qualifying, if we’re the left side of the board by qualifying 25th, 23rd, 20th, 18th – let’s set goals we can achieve together as a race team and grow together. I’m not putting any pressure on her or saying we’ve got to win a race or we’ve got to run a top-five. So, I’ll judge everything by how we are getting along, how our team is building, more than I am results.”