Chevy Racing–NASCAR Media Day–Danica Patrick

An interview with:
DANICA PATRICK: — more confident I could get a top-10 finish at Atlanta than I feel confident that I could get a top-10 finish at Daytona just because it’s such a crapshoot. You have to have so much luck on your side. You have to avoid the accidents, be at the right place at the right time, have smooth pit stops, make good decisions on the track. There’s just a lot that you can’t count on.

Q. How do you feel like your understanding of the draft over the past three or four years has improved?
DANICA PATRICK: Uhm, I realize how important the cars behind you are as compared to the cars in front of you.
In IndyCars you really needed to see the car in front of you to catch a tow, get a draft. What’s behind you doesn’t matter. In stockcars, what’s behind you is what matters.
If I’m ever in a drafting line and I don’t feel like I’m able to keep up to the car in front of me as easily, I look in my mirror, and sure enough, the car is either — no cars behind or they’re one or two car lengths back, which makes it harder to keep up when they’re not really tight on you.
Then, of course, you don’t want to be in a situation where someone’s so tight on you that anything happens and they could hit you. So that’s the excitement of speedway racing.
Q. The situation that happened last year here with Denny, where it was a matter of air off his front end —
DANICA PATRICK: And contact.
Q. Do you worry about something like that happening again with maybe a different driver?
DANICA PATRICK: You always worry. I mean, there’s nothing you can do about what’s behind you. They’re in control. The best thing you can do is go fast and hopefully they can’t keep up to you. But that’s not really the case at a speedway.
Last year, you know, I definitely was assisted in spinning twice by the same person. But, you know, was I too loose, like Denny said? Yeah, I might have been a little bit too loose, but it definitely makes it too loose when you get hit.
But it was a good lesson for me to learn. My ask going into this year was that the speedway cars were more stable. They had more rear grip. That way I can be more on the throttle. I’m not lifting for any reason getting into the corner, and I can be as aggressive as I need to be. That keeps you away from the car behind you, but it also puts you in a better position if you do get hit to hopefully save it a little bit easier, or just not be in that position.
So, you know, it was a lesson. I really wish I wouldn’t have had to learn it the way I did. It made it exciting because I almost didn’t qualify for the 500.
Q. (Question about Ricky.)
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I mean, Valentine’s Day at the dirt track, I couldn’t have thought of anything better. But part of being in a relationship is that you see somebody that you love and care about doing something that they love so much and that they’re happy.
So going to the dirt track makes him that happy. When Brian blew an engine in practice, we went over there to watch him, he was talking about how quickly their engine changes go. He’s like 10 or 20 minutes and things change. I said I wanted to go watch. He went on over there, led the way. He was grabbing wrenches.
I knew at that moment he was having like the best Valentine’s Day ever because he loves working on cars.
He knows what he’s doing with that stuff. I feel like a lot of him, that’s where his heart is. He loves being able to be hands-on and being able to be involved, then also he just thinks the racing is straight and cool.
If it wasn’t so dirty, I’d probably love it a little bit more. But I always have to shower afterwards. I always have to like clean my shoes off. I can’t wear nice shoes to the track. Such a bummer.
Q. (Question regarding contact.)
DANICA PATRICK: I think it’s important for drivers to be opinionated and also looking into reasons and ways how we can be safer. I’m grateful that people are thinking about that.
I don’t think about that as much. But you know what, if somebody mentions it, you’re like, Yeah, I guess if you could slow down better on a certain surface, that could help things.
So this sport has always moved in a forward direction with safety. Obviously after last year’s accident with Kyle Busch, breaking his leg, SAFER barriers came very much into the forefront of what we need around every track, inside and outside. So maybe pavement is the next thing.
I also think it’s important that the tracks and NASCAR are involved in investing into the sport and making it safer. It’s ultimately so they can keep their drivers going. It’s not great publicity when we have problems like that. It brings to light some negative sides to the sport.
That could definitely be part of the transition into just making the sport safer.
Q. (No microphone.)
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, Billy is just a very relatable guy. He’s very easy to talk to. He’s just a really normal, normal guy. I think that’s important when it comes to a team, that everyone can talk to him, communicate, and feel like they cannot only say what they want, but have a good time, as well.
I feel like it creates a good environment. Even last weekend when we were faced with quite a few different things, with accident, crash damage, overheating, things like that at the end, the team did a great job of working together even though it’s the first time we’ve all done that.
I think that’s a reflection of everybody being comfortable and confident based on his leadership.
Q. Three years ago you obviously won the pole for this race. Have you reflected on how you’ve changed as a person in the past three years?
DANICA PATRICK: I’m so much more mean (laughter). No.
I don’t think that’s easy for me to answer. I think it’s easier for people to answer how I’m different from when I first came into the sport.
I’d like to say that I feel more confident, I feel more comfortable. I am grateful. I’m grateful for the pole position I got in 2013 for this race. It definitely is one of those things that makes you appreciate fast cars and those things that make that happen.
But I don’t know if I’m that much different. I mean, this is my 25th season of racing. While it was my first year in Cup, it was coming off of seven years in IndyCar, one in Nationwide Series, what was the Nationwide Series back then. That was eight professional years. It’s not as though it was my first time in the big leagues.
I don’t know. I don’t feel any different. Maybe I take fancier vacations. I don’t know. Actually I might do less. I might relax at home more because NASCAR has such a grueling schedule actually, I find more vacation at home than I ever used to.
Q. How confident are you in your ability to drive these cars?
DANICA PATRICK: I’m far more confident. I’m far more confident and comfortable. I’m understanding the car properly and able to help in making it better quickly on the race weekend.
Also the comfort of getting up to speed fast helps that learning curve, too. I remember there was lots of times in the very beginning when I wasn’t able to drive the car to the very limit. We’d come in and make changes based on the way that I was driving it. Once I was driving it the way it needed to be, all of a sudden we ended up back where we started. We wasted all practice for me to learn how to do it.
Much better at getting up to speed. But always room to improve. I’m still working on doing a better job at that. I think as a driver, we all tend to have our general weak areas and general strong areas. I know mine. I’m sure everybody else knows theirs, too.
Q. (No microphone.)
DANICA PATRICK: There’s stipulations as far as if a charter happens, to look at the prize money and the situation. I’m not in a big rush to address it. I’m sure that my team has been nothing but fair for years, so we’ll work it out.
I think there’s a lot of positives to it. I mean, we’re a great big sport. Every other sport has this system. I think it brings us into a place where we need to be.
It gives some stability to the teams, something to build on, as well. I mean, the better the team does, the more it’s worth, the more money it makes them through prize money and historically. It’s a real positive.
Just something simple like qualifying for the Daytona 500, I almost didn’t last year. That’s awful when I have a big sponsor and a good team, circumstances didn’t play out right. I think back to even Talladega when Ricky didn’t make the race because he crossed the line too late because everybody’s playing games ’cause you got to do pack qualifying. Those were ridiculous times that shouldn’t happen.
With that new system, it won’t. I think that’s a definite positive.
Beyond that, as far as a positive, I don’t know. I think it’s more about the team. I think we’ll see how it filters down through the drivers.
Q. How long did it take you and Denny to be friends?
DANICA PATRICK: I’m pretty sure we were laughing that night afterwards. Our buses are parked next to each other. Maybe it was even the next day, but…
I like Denny. We went on vacation with Denny this winter. We go golfing with Denny all the time. That’s why I was so mad because I was like, You’re my friend, why are you doing this. I’m on my third backup (laughter).
Q. With the hundredth running of the Indy 500, do you think about it at all?
DANICA PATRICK: When it’s mentioned that it’s the hundredth 500, it is a little bit thought provoking. I have a lot going on in NASCAR. I have a new crew chief. I have things that I want to accomplish over here.
I had a great time in IndyCar. I was given great opportunities. I’m okay with not doing it is what I’m saying. Just kind of like people talk about a year being a pivotal year, every year was like that at Indy for me. I don’t think anyone is saying, Oh, you only won the 76th running, like that’s no big deal. Every one of them is a big deal.
The hundredth will be a great media exposure for the series, for the race itself, the drivers involved. But anything beyond that, I mean, I would have been happy to have won any of them. I mean, the hundredth is just a marker.
But it does help me remember my good times.
Q. Because of the family connection, do you live vicariously for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, not necessarily. I feel like my sister is all on her own, too, almost with her husband running the team. He’s gone the whole month.
I do love to hear about it. I love to hear how people are doing. I love to hear what’s going on. I care about that sport. I especially care about the Indy 500.
Hopefully there will never be a problem and it will always be around.
Q. (No microphone.)
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, I really think that the best thing that you can do to have people want to help you or follow you if you pull out of line and make a move, like when I restarted sixth in the Unlimited, Kurt was behind me, he went high on me and got a run and went high, everybody followed him. I mean, I don’t think that would happen to me.
But Kurt has been around a long time and he’s won a lot of races and he’s won a championship. You just have to earn that position where people want to follow you because they believe in you and they trust you.
I don’t think there’s a huge substitute for time. I think that’s just what you have to do. Time and proving yourself. Getting up to the front, at times it means muscling your way a little bit, you want to get up there, you care, you’re ready to be aggressive.
But you can’t be someone that’s a squirrel that people don’t want to be around either. There are those drivers out there where people don’t want to be around them because it’s dangerous and you don’t want to crash out of the race. You just don’t want to be that person either.
It’s a fine line you walk, but I think time is the best thing to help that.
Q. You’re always realistic about this transition was going to take time, learning Cup and everything. Has it started to become frustrating, the non-winning part?
DANICA PATRICK: I mean, there’s 40-plus cars in the field. It’s twice as hard as it used to be to get to Victory Lane. It was hard to do it back when I was in IndyCar. I did it once in seven years.
It’s very challenging. There’s lots of great drivers. Experience definitely helps. I’m working on getting that.
I mean, everybody wants to win. There are a lot of drivers. I was wondering, how many drivers in the field have won versus haven’t won. It’s very hard to win in Cup, it just is. Everything’s got to go your way and be right and be clicking. That’s what also makes it so great when it happens. The blood, sweat and tears to get there.
I mean, it’s always frustrating, but it’s frustrating to just keep wanting to do better. But that’s what drives you.
Q. Can you talk one more time about the joking that goes on between you and Denny.
DANICA PATRICK: The joking? Well, Denny and I are friends. He assisted in making my job a lot harder to get into the 500 last year. We got over it pretty quickly. We’re more friends, for sure.
I think I heard his girlfriend say, Why don’t you talk with me like that? Why don’t you argue with me like that? Because he was very understanding with me, too. But I was definitely frustrated.