KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway is one of the few tracks on the NASCAR schedule where Danica Patrick has a lot of experience.
Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) has made seven starts at Sonoma dating back to 2005.
Those seven starts came in the IZOD IndyCar Series and unfortunately won’t offer much assistance to Patrick as she competes in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Sonoma.
About the only things familiar to Patrick will be the garage area, pit lane and portions of the track. The reason only portions of the track will be familiar is that the IndyCar Series used two different layouts during the seven years Patrick competed there and neither is identical to the 1.99-mile, 10-turn course she will drive on Sunday.
It will be Patrick’s first career Sprint Cup Series start on a road course and she is hoping her efforts produce better results than her three NASCAR Nationwide Series road-course finishes last year.
All three were memorable, if not downright strange.
In June at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., Patrick was fourth on the final lap when she was bumped into the gravel trap by Jacques Villeneueve, which caused her to finish 12th. Two months later, Patrick finished 43rd at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International after Ryan Truex spun in front of her on the start and she could not avoid his spinning car and made heavy contact with his machine.
But the strangest experience of all came one week later when Patrick led 20 laps and was on the point at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal when a fan threw a shoe onto the track and she ran over it on lap 38 of 81. Shortly thereafter, whether the shoe caused the problem or not, Patrick was forced to pit for mechanical repairs and finished 27th.
At Sonoma, Patrick is hoping to run a smooth and clean race, avoid any shoes on course, and build upon a solid 13th-place finish she and the GoDaddy team scored last week at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Last year, you ran well on the road courses in the Nationwide Series. How confident are you going into Sonoma? “Every step up, you take it to another level of difficulty and, by all means, in the Cup series there are a lot of good road-course drivers. It’s going to be challenging. I don’t think it’s going to be one of those things where I’m going to go qualify in the first two rows and lead the race the whole time, or at least I shouldn’t expect to be able to just do that right away. It still took a little bit for Tony Eury Jr. (Nationwide Series crew chief) and I to get a setup that worked for me on the road courses. My first trip to Montreal was very different than my second trip. It’s going to take a little bit of time, but it is a little bit of a comfort zone for me. I feel like I know what I’m doing and I feel comfortable. Stock-car drivers just don’t get a lot of time on road courses and I’ve spent my whole career doing it, for the most part. It’s nice to go to a place where I feel comfortable, I suppose.”
You tested at Virginia International Raceway a couple of weeks ago. Talk about that test. “It was a productive day. It wasn’t so much about setting up the car for Sonoma because, obviously, the tracks are completely different. It was more about getting a good brake package and making sure I’m comfortable in the car. It’s my first road-course race with Stewart-Haas and my first time working one with Tony Gibson (crew chief), so it was just about making sure everything is smooth. There is so much that goes into a road-course race – shifting, braking, mirrors, the seat – you just want to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible so you don’t have to work on those things too much once you get to the track.”
You competed at Sonoma in an IndyCar. Will that help you at all in a stock car? “Other than being familiar with the garage and pit lane, no (laughs). The cars are obviously so different that nothing will translate. It’s just such a different style of driving. This also is a slightly different course than what we ran in IndyCar, so nothing really translates. I’m excited to go out to Sonoma, though. I’ve always liked it out there and, hopefully, we can have a great weekend.”