Danica Patrick is making her NASCAR Nationwide Series debut this weekend at Daytona. After running 26th in opening practice yesterday, the IZOD IndyCar Series regular, improved to fifth today. Afterward, she met with the media.
Q: Talk about how it's been.
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, it's nice to go up the speed chart. I was just saying that, you know, they told me not to look at the speed chart yesterday when I was 26th, because it doesn't really matter. I'm not going to look at it today because I'm fifth, because it supposedly doesn't matter.
I know a lot of cars were running qualifying runs. There was a little less pack running. There was a good pack of us at the beginning.
We improved the car a little bit from yesterday to today. I was a little loose yesterday. I'm still a little loose today (laughter). But we've done some things to chase that down. You know, the big difference for me from last weekend to this weekend is I think just the ARCA car rolled through the corner and there was a lot of grip there, and the closing rates were not as dramatic as they are in the Nationwide car.
So, just dealing with how the car kind of goes over the bumps, it's a little bit more on the edge more with this car, the wheelbase being a little shorter. Then dealing with getting really big runs on cars all the time, I kind of hope that's not normal. I hope that's just because I'm really fast (smiling). It's also something we have to keep under control because running up on people with the rear-end being a little bit on the edge, if you have to jump out of the throttle, it's a little bit of drama out there. So, you know, we're just trying to contain that all.
The front end has been pretty good. I've been told it gets to a big push here. So far, so good. We've made steady, steady improvements. We're going to keep our heads down and think about what last little changes we should make for Saturday.
Q: It sounds like you did a lot of film study in preparation for this. Can you describe what you looked at, what you saw, and was it just video or did you do the computer simulations?
DANICA PATRICK: I did not do any computer simulations. Tony [Eury] Jr. has set me up with the whole iRacing kit. I haven't started that yet. I'm not normally a video game person, but I'll give it a whirl. Him and Dale Jr. were talking about it last night. They just get so excited. They said Tony Jr. will take me out, so those are things I'll be ready for.
I did some in-car camera and race footage from last year. I watched the first bit of the race this morning. I'm in the garage telling the guys, "Everyone went loose last year, everyone went loose last year. Please, I'm already loose." So, you know, just taking all that into consideration and also just looking at how the pack starts, how it spreads out, where the cars end up, maybe what lines end up being better than others.
You know, they've been telling me it's going to be two-by-two for the start. It sure was two-by-two for the start last year. As long as my car is good enough at the start to hang there and not drop back in any way, we'll be good, because the car doesn't have a big push in it right now. As long as the rear doesn't get too hot and start to oversteer too much, hopefully I'll be all right.
Q: You mentioned when you came in there's a lot more of us [media] in here now. You had to know there was going to be interest, but has this been overwhelming to you, a surprise, this amount of media?
DANICA PATRICK: I probably sound just like, you know, a sweet little lady just saying, I feel really lucky, but I do. I've been lucky enough to be in situations in IndyCar before with the Indy 500, winning my first race and everything, that the media was paying attention and asking me questions.
This is definitely by far the biggest room of media I've been in. But once you get to a certain point, you know, a little more is not as dramatic. I mean, if it was a room of a few of you, and then all of a sudden it was this, it would be a little bit more intimidating. I've been lucky to be in these situations.
I think that played into what made me ready to go NASCAR racing. I know this is a bigger stage. I feel like I've really built up a lot of, you know, patience and tolerance and confidence along the way in IndyCar to be ready for everything, including this.
Q: Do you know the first time you started mentally preparing for this moment that you're in right now, what was going through your head?
DANICA PATRICK: The race, you're talking about?
Q: The first time you thought this moment could happen and what you did to mentally prepare yourself for it.
DANICA PATRICK: I really think it's experience. You can't just think through experience or think through situations you've never been in. You just have to kind of build up. It's just like speed. It's about starting out in karting, building your way up.
Everything I've done has been some preparation for the position that I'm in now. So, you know, I'd have to say that I've been preparing for this since I was 10.Q: Race drivers, particularly in NASCAR, it's an ego-driven sport, big names, but you're dominating the attention. It's beginning to overshadow the Daytona 500. Is there any uneasiness that comes with that?
DANICA PATRICK: You phrase it that way, a little bit (laughter).
I'm lucky. But I can't control how much is out there and what people say, how much they say. I don't by any means want to take away from the amazing drivers who are out there and doing well and also having their first race in Nationwide or also their first race in Cup, you know, changing teams, being with a good team. That's not my mission, is to be the big story.
But, you know, on the other hand, if I can do anything to help the series, the other drivers, perhaps drag in some sponsors, I'm happy to do it. And I get benefit from that, too. So there's a lot of reasons why this is a good thing. But I, by no means, am trying to take anything away from anybody else, including the Daytona 500.
Q: Is IndyCar getting any benefit to this?
DANICA PATRICK: I'm sure IndyCar is feeling some benefit from this. I'm sure that they are. Their name has been said, you know, time and time again, in referring to me, what I've done, where I've come from. Shoot, I refer to IndyCar all the time. It's the only thing I have to refer to. I'll be talking to Tony Jr. (right) and I'll be, "In an IndyCar...". I say it all the time. That's all I have to go off of. It's where I came from. I'm sure it's being mentioned more than if an IndyCar driver wasn't out here.
Q: Toward the end of practice you were gently chatting with Chip about the way he brought you in from the pits. He said he was trying to make it easy for you. You said, It's not going to be easy during the race. Talk about what happened there in practice and why that's your philosophy?
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, well, I don't mean to get on Chip or put him on the hot seat here. I just know that the pit stops in the ARCA race were pit stops, sure. But it's not going to be like coming down, stopping under green flag, stopping with the whole train of people. I need to know the limit of the brakes, what the car stops like. As many times as I can, I need to practice stopping for that line.
Also I'm used to stopping to a rev limiter. I can floor it, it doesn't go anywhere. So now I have to watch a tack go down below four thousand, I have to look at the lights, get the throttle so it doesn't jerk. There's so many other things. The deceleration rates are so different.
I really just wanted to keep practicing as much as I could. That was an opportunity to try it one more time. But I'm listening. I didn't go around Turns 3 and 4 and just go for it myself. I'm listening to my spotter. I trust him. He knows next time I'll be ready for pitting off of 4.
Q: Do you think your performance so far has maybe shut up some of your critics, had them say that they need to rethink this, that maybe you can do this?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, that's only really going to come – you can really only ask them. I've heard some really great feedback. People have said plenty of "good jobs". Hopefully that implies people can see me driving.
I mean, if I spent all my time trying to prove to everybody I could drive a racecar, I would be out of energy. All I really need to do is keep my team happy, keep my crew chief happy, and keep myself happy, know that I'm pushing a limit. Hey, you know, I'm new, some stuff is going to be tough, I'm not going to come up to speed as quickly.
As long as I'm progressing, I think that's all I can really use as a barometer as to whether I'm getting better or not or I can drive. I can't really change people's minds. They have to watch and judge for themselves.
Q: How satisfied are you yourself so far with how things have gone?
DANICA PATRICK: I've been having a lot of fun. I am satisfied. Last weekend for the ARCA race, I was really happy with that run. I was happy with the race. I did make some mistakes, for sure. A couple of them I recovered from well. You know, that's good. That shows me that I've learned some things, can handle these situations.
But this is a whole 'nother ball of wax this weekend. This car is not as easy to drive. There's a lot of really great drivers out there, really great teams out there. Everybody is running close. You know, everybody wants to make that next step up to Cup.
This is a much different situation for me. So I'm glad to be out there, though, because I really, really need the practice. My goal purely is to finish, just to finish the race, log 300 miles of practice.
Q: You had two days of testing in the ARCA car, then some practice. Here just three and a half hours of practice in the Nationwide car. Do you feel you have the car dialed in? How comfortable are you?
DANICA PATRICK: As I said at the very beginning, we're working on it. I don't think it's perfect. But I think it's better than it was yesterday, for sure. You know, the funny thing about a racecar is I don't think you can ever have too much time. There's always something we can complain about.
Like I said, these Nationwide cars are just a little bit more difficult to drive. There's just a little bit more on the edge. So, uhm, you know, I think we're headed in the right direction.
Q: All this talk about we know it's a difficult transition, a challenge, competitive. Do you like it?
DANICA PATRICK: Yes, I do like it. I didn't shy away from saying that I had so much fun last weekend in the ARCA race. I'm still having fun now. It's a little bit more of a challenge, for sure. So it's not just put your foot down, drive around wherever you want out there. You've got to be up on the wheel a little bit in this car.
But that's OK. I'm still enjoying it a lot. The fans have been good. People have been good. My team's great. Everybody has been helpful. The drivers are really helpful. So, I'm having a blast.
Q: When you came out of that car Saturday night, you seemed as thrilled and exhilarated as we had ever seen you after any race. Are you beginning to have, what I'd call, sort of a Jeff Gordon epiphany, after all the years in open-wheel, climbing into a stock car, "This is what I want to do"? Are you getting in that direction?
DANICA PATRICK: You know, I can't deny that I really like driving the car. I can't deny that it's really fun racing. As I go back to – originally my big reason for wanting to come and drive stock cars was because I think the racing looked fun, and now I know it is.
I don't doubt there are going to be hard days, just like in IndyCar, where you just want to park it. You're just saving your life every corner. But, you know, all in all, these are really fun cars to drive. I love the racing. I love there's passing, I love there's side by side. Not only is it fun for the drivers, but it's fun for the fans, too, and they're important. And they're good shows.
I like that we're on TV all the time. You know, the fans can really develop their own story lines for what's going on out there, pick their favorites, learn the personalities. That's really cool. I think that's really what's been helpful for this sport.
I still very much enjoy IndyCar. I haven't been in the car but once since the end of last year, so it's been quite some time. But, I mean, there's really nothing like the Indy 500. That is such a cool event for anybody who hasn't been there. I'm sure most of you have, but...
IndyCars are very much performance cars. They do what you ask when you ask them to. These are a little bit bigger. But the racing is very fun. I haven't made any decisions regarding which is my favorite. It's like having two kids: I can't pick.
Q: Could you talk about racing around the Cup guys in practice, how that might help you in the race on Saturday.
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, well, I don't want to sound silly or like I don't know what's going on out there, but sometimes it's hard to tell which ones there are. I'm very aware like what car they drive in Cup, but then they have different paint schemes for this race, driving different cars. So when I re-watched the practice from yesterday, I was like, "Oh, yeah, I went by Carl Edwards, all right." Those are the victory moments.
But on the other hand, I was telling my husband, "On some level I don't really want to know exactly who they are all the time out there, because I don't want to have this preconceived idea that, 'Whoa, it's a Cup guy, be careful.'" I want to race 'em like I would race 'em. I'm a fair driver. I want to earn their respect. It's going to come from being myself out there and building up.
It's cool. I'm glad I'm running this weekend to get to do that.
Q: A lot of it here is making friends, having drafting partners, having people feel they want to go with you. Can you share with us, have you got some people, people you've spoken to?
DANICA PATRICK: I know it's important to have friends. I know it's important to have people who will run with you. If I've got a good run, I want to be the kind of person people will jump up high or drop down low with you and create a line, get the momentum going. You know, that's going to be a slow and steady process by spending time running with these people to build up their confidence in me. So, you know, I've been doing everything I can to make friends out there and be fair. Hopefully it's working.
Q: A lot of people are talking about the attention you're getting. A lot of people said Jimmie Johnson doesn't get the attention he deserves. Have you studied him? You're obviously in a learning mode. What do you learn from watching the way he drives?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, there are a lot of good drivers out there, but definitely Jimmie has been a standout for the last few years, what they've accomplished. Spent some time talking to [Johnson's crew chief] Chad Knaus, actually. You know, it's always interesting to learn about driving styles.
Obviously, with Hendrick around, you know, you have those engineers around sometimes, too, so you hear about the driving styles from them, too, what they're like. So, you know, it's always interesting to hear that. I plan on, you know, hopefully picking that all apart as much as I can over time.
It's a little bit tough because there's no data with these cars. It's all hearsay, what they're doing out there. But, you know, in IndyCar, it's live. They can watch it happening in the pits while we're out there. I'll be like, "Oh, I'm understeering." They're like, "We know, because they're watching your steering trace, watching your roll bars change, your cross-weight change." In these cars, it's not like that. It's not as easy. It really only happens when you go testing.
It's a little bit harder to really, really compare. But, you know, I've been very overwhelmed, as I've said plenty of times, with how many drivers have come forward and said they would help me out. I'm not going to waste that. I mean, I was talking to Tony Stewart last night about, "Should the car really feel like this?" Dale Jr. was in the truck waiting for me for half an hour. I came in the truck after practice, and we talked for another half an hour. Guys have been extremely generous. I don't plan on wasting that or taking that for granted.
Q: Can you outline some things you're going to have to be careful of in the Nationwide Series other than pitting? A lot of fans will be watching you in that race knowing you have it under hand. What will you have to work on mentally?
DANICA PATRICK: I think that I'm just gonna have to stay calm and cool. You know, if the car is difficult to drive, I think the discipline will be to just, you know, keep it at the pace that I'm comfortable with, keep it in the race, try and work on it on the pit stops, just tune it in as much as possible. We have another 100 miles this weekend as opposed to last weekend.
Then, just staying calm out there. These guys are driving hard, for sure. Everybody is out there to prove themselves, to win races, as I've been hearing, take the trophy.
I need to be ready for that. While I'm not as comfortable as they are with the car, its tendencies, what's happening. I just need to stay on my toes and learn the racing style, learn how these guys drive, learn some of their personalities out there, just kind of absorb it all, finish the race.