KANNAPOLIS, N.C., – It wasn’t quite planned this way, but it was close.
Danica Patrick will finally make a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start during the day – unless Mother Nature once again decides to change things, of course.
Patrick has made five Sprint Cup starts – all under the bright lights – as her races in February at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, in May at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, in August at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and in September at Atlanta Motor Speedway were all night races.
Darlington, Charlotte, Bristol and Atlanta were scheduled night races while Daytona went from a Sunday-afternoon start to NASCAR’s version of Monday Night Football due to heavy rains that forced the event to be delayed more than 24 hours.
So, weather permitting, Patrick’s first daytime race will be Sunday’s Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. And it will also be a homecoming of sorts as Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, grew up in Roscoe, Ill., about 116 miles to the north and west.
The 1.5-mile oval is a place Patrick has driven at nine times throughout her career – six times in IZOD IndyCar Series competition and three times in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. In September 2005, she qualified on the pole for the IndyCar Series race at 215.970 mph and finished sixth. She also scored a 10th-place result in Nationwide Series competition in June 2011.
With each of her Sprint Cup starts, Patrick has continued to learn the ropes of succeeding in NASCAR’s top division. And this week (again, weather permitting) the education will involve something as simple as Sprint Cup racing during the day.
Is it helpful for you that your last Sprint Cup start was two weeks ago at the 1.5-mile oval at Atlanta as you’re now headed to another 1.5-mile oval at Chicagoland? “To be honest, I feel like the grip levels are sort of similar. At Chicago, you can definitely hustle around there, but it’s a slippery track. I feel like it will translate. Some of the tougher ones are the slippery ones, for me, but that was the point. We didn’t pick places like Texas or (Las) Vegas where I enjoy hustling around those tracks. We picked the ones that are hard, that have day-to-night transitions, things like that.”
You grew up in Roscoe, Ill., about 116 miles northwest of Chicagoland Speedway. Will you have a lot of family and friends at the race this weekend? “There are going to be 10 or so people out there, which is a lot for me. We don’t normally have a lot because we don’t exactly volunteer tickets because it’s a lot of work and there’s a lot going on during the weekend. For people who come out to the track, you want them to have a good time and, if you don’t feel like you can help them have a good time, then there’s not much point. But I think, more than anything, the fact it’s the second time at Chicagoland is more why there are people coming. They’re reminded that I go to the Chicago racetrack the first time and then, the second time, they’re coming because they remember me being there a little while ago and missing the opportunity to get the tickets (laughs). It’s going to be busy with the (Sprint) Cup weekend but, I have to say, a lot of times on the weekends, when there are people there and it’s a busy weekend, I don’t have to do anything, quite honestly. My husband is a real trooper and he takes care of anyone who comes out to the track. Other than that, I don’t see any difference at Chicago compared to going to Richmond or Atlanta or any other place. It only matters if there are people out there who we’re entertaining. Or, I should say, people my husband is entertaining (laughs).
How important was it for you that Stewart-Haas Racing recently re-signed Ryan Newman? “I really like Ryan. He’s a really good guy and he’s pretty damn funny. And I think it’s very beneficial for someone like me to have experience on the team. Tony and Ryan drive quite differently and it’s good for me as a driver to see those different styles on the (engineering) traces for every lap we run, so I’m excited about that and I’m sure the team is excited to get that out of the way. It’s always tricky and tough in this sport – it’s the chicken and the egg. You have to have a driver to get a sponsor, but you’ve got to have the sponsor to get the driver. So, hopefully, this gets them to the point where sponsors pull the trigger.”
The Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., will mark Danica Patrick’s sixth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start and her first at the 1.5-mile oval. She has competed in three NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Chicagoland and has two top-15 finishes, including a 10th-place result in 2011.
Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway marks the first time Patrick will compete in a Sprint Cup race at a track where she previously raced in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Among her six IndyCar starts at the 1.5-mile oval, she won the pole and finished sixth in 2005 while driving for Rahal Letterman Racing.
Patrick has career totals of one top-five finish, five top-10s, 55 laps led and one pole in 50 career NASCAR Nationwide Series races.
In 2012 Nationwide Series competition, Patrick has one pole (Daytona) and a best finish of eighth, which came in April at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. She led once for a race-high 20 laps last month on the road course at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal until mechanical problems caused her to go to the garage for repairs. She finished 27th, six laps down.
Patrick started 34th and finished ninth three weeks ago in the Nationwide race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway to score her second top-10 of 2012. One night later, in the Sprint Cup race, she was in the top-20 and on the lead lap with 66 laps remaining when her car was hit by another car and contacted the SAFER Barrier on the inside retaining wall of the frontstretch. She finished 29th.
The remaining races on Patrick’s Sprint Cup Series schedule after Chicagoland are Dover (Del.) International Speedway, Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Phoenix International Raceway.
Four Score: In March 2011, Patrick finished fourth in the Nationwide race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the best-ever finish by a woman in a NASCAR national stock-car series, topping a fifth-place run by Sarah Christian in a Sprint Cup race in 1949 at Heidelberg (Pa.) Raceway.
History Maker: Patrick became the first woman to win a major-league open-wheel race in a North American series in April 2009 by winning the IZOD IndyCar Series Indy Japan 300 at the Twin Ring Motegi oval in Japan.
Point Taken: In 2009, Patrick finished fifth in IndyCar Series points, the best finish ever for a woman in the series.
Big Stage: In seven Indianapolis 500 starts, Patrick finished in the top-10 six times, including a third-place result in 2009, the best finish ever for a woman in the historic race.
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