KANNAPOLIS, N.C.– It was just three weeks ago that Danica Patrick surprised many NASCAR observers with her impressive 12th-place finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the .526-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will look to improve even further on her short-track results in Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 Sprint Cup race at the .75-mile Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
Like Martinsville, Richmond has been part of NASCAR since the early days of the sport. Lee Petty, father of seven-time Sprint Cup champion Richard Petty, won the first Sprint Cup race at Richmond on April 19, 1953 – little more than 60 years ago. Martinsville conducted its first race in 1949.
Patrick is no stranger to racing at Richmond, having competed in three NASCAR Nationwide Series races and five IZOD IndyCar Series races at the three-quarter-mile oval. She scored four top-10 IndyCar finishes, including sixth-place results in 2007 and 2008 and a fifth-place effort in 2009.
She has taken a liking to short-track racing and improved steadily through the last few months. In the August 2012 Sprint Cup race at the .533-mile Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway oval, Patrick 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.
In the November Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, Patrick finished what was then a career-best 17th on the mile oval after running as high as 14th with less than five laps to go. She improved even more with the 12th-place finish April 7 at Martinsville.
One focus for Patrick and the Go Daddy team will be to improve their qualifying efforts. In addition to the obvious better starting spot, the better qualifying effort results in a better pit stall and better track position to start the race – both extremely critical at a short track like Richmond.
Sunday at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Patrick qualified 25th, her best effort since her pole at this year’s season-opening Daytona 500.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
The Go Daddy team has really tried to focus on qualifying better each week. How is that progressing? “I was over talking to Tony (Stewart) after practice (last week at Kansas) and said, ‘Look, I’ve got to figure out how to qualify better.’ And you know, a lot of the runs there have been obvious issues, whether it be really loose or really tight or having a moment at the end of the first lap, which leads into the next lap, so it kills both of them. You know, there have been reasons. But all in all, it’s not necessarily my strong area and I know that. I was saying that in the Nationwide Series – it was kind of the same thing. And once I really got comfortable in the car and understood it and what it did when you pushed it, and obviously developed a setup that I am comfortable with, things really changed. And, all of a sudden, it was like a light switch and I was like, all right, I’m actually not so bad at qualifying these things anymore. But it took time. And so, I’m sure that it does happen like that with me. All of a sudden, something happens and I’ll feel more comfortable and there’s more speed there. But it doesn’t stop me from pushing and trying to figure out how to get better at it. I think the best thing we can do at this point in time is to try and get a car underneath me that I feel comfortable with and try to develop a good platform that we can go with each and every weekend to these 1.5-mile tracks, and to the short tracks, too, and just know what I have, as well. There’s something to be said for coming to the green and, yeah, you’ve got to be fast through (turns) three and four coming to the green. So, just knowing what you’ve got underneath you so you know what it’s going to do when you push it.”
A lot of young girls look up to you. Do you feel you’ve inspired some of them to get into auto racing? “Maybe just from the perspective that they would think about racing. It’s not a normal sport for a kid to try because it’s not something you go play in school, right? In school, you play basketball, volleyball, all those kinds of sports, like baseball. Racing is not one of those. So, your family has to have the means to be able to do it and then you have to have even the scope of knowledge to be able to run a car. I think it might just make people a little bit more interested and maybe they want to become racecar drivers. But what I always tell little girls or little boys is that anybody who wants to become a racecar driver has to work really hard and it has to be your passion. And if you find that it is, so be it. But if not, then follow that because I think you can make a career out of anything.”
Television ratings for NASCAR have been up for the most part this year. How much of an impact do you think you have had on those ratings? “I always say it takes all of us out there to make an entertaining race. If it was just me out there it would be really, really boring. I understand your question. I think that, when I’m running, let’s say at Daytona, and qualifying on the pole, there are a lot of stories written and so it drums up a lot of attention and interest and pure curiosity, like, ‘How’s this going to work out? Is she going to be good? Is she going to hang on? Is she doing to drop back?’ So, that curiosity might lead to viewership. I’m flattered by that. But again, I think we’ve seen throughout the races this year that there has been a record number – or at least a new record number – of lead changes at racetracks and that’s the kind of stuff that keeps fans coming back.”