Q&A with IndyCar sensation Danica Patrick
· 27-year-old veteran of five seasons in the IndyCar Series
· Drives the No. 7 Motorola entry for Andretti Green Racing
· Opened the 2009 season with two top-five finishes in the first three races, one of only four drivers to do so
· Has made 67 career starts, recording 13 top-five finishes, 38 top-10s and winning three poles
· Became the first woman to win a major closed-course auto race in April 2008 at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan
· Has made four starts in the Indianapolis 500, qualifying in the top 10 in each one
· Has three top-10 finishes in the Indianapolis 500
· Won Chase Rookie of the Year honors at Indianapolis in 2005, leading 19 laps en route to a fourth-place finish
DANICA PATRICK: Hi.
MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us.
Danica is in her fifth season in the IndyCar Series and her third driving the No. 7 Motorola entry for Andretti Green Racing. Last year she earned her first career victory at Twin Ring Motegi. This year she ranks sixth in points heading into the Indianapolis 500 and is one of only four drivers with at least two top-five finishes in the season's first three races.
This will be her fifth Indianapolis 500. She earned Chase Rookie of the Year honors at the Speedway in 2004 when she led 19 laps after starting and finishing fourth. She finished eighth in 2006 and 2007. Last year she started fifth and finished 22nd.
Danica, a couple of practice days this week before Pole Day on Saturday. You qualified in the top 10 all four years at Indy. What are the things that you try and accomplish the first couple of days of practice and then what are the keys to turning in another solid qualifying effort on Saturday?
DANICA PATRICK: First and foremost thanks, everybody for being on. It's a good opportunity to really just focus on qualifying. All the rest of the year we tend to not really be so heavily focused on it, and we kind of do maybe a qualifying practice run or two, but that's about it, and then we kind of fill the car up and work on race stuff from there.
We get a few days to really focus on it. It's about getting the car comfortable. You really want the car comfortable when it has more downforce on it. As you trim it out, the balance changes maybe a little bit, but really you want to start out with a good balanced car, and hopefully you can even take the downforce off and just get faster.
MODERATOR: It's obviously a much more competitive field now, even in the last year, certainly than two, three, four or five years ago since you've been here. How much tougher do you think it's going to be to get in the top 11 on Saturday than maybe in years past?
DANICA PATRICK: Every year is challenging. But, I think you still have a lot of the leaders at the front of the field as you did four years ago. It's always been pretty tough. Yeah, there are a lot more drivers, and I think there are going to be more knocking on that top-11 door maybe more so than before.
Hopefully we don't have to worry about that and we get in that first day and we have a good qualifying run on the first one and it's good enough to put us in the top 11 and in the front row.
MODERATOR: We have a question submitted, three questions from Michael Knight. It's often said it would help to grow the series' popularity for you, Marco (Andretti) and Graham (Rahal) to contend for race wins on a regular basis and be championship contenders. Do you still feel that sort of pressure or are you used to it by now? Have you discussed with that Marco or Graham or shared any advice with them about dealing with that potential pressure?
DANICA PATRICK: Everybody wants to win. That's the problem. At Indy, there's 33 of us, and the rest of the season there's 20 odd drivers that want to win. So, as much as it would be great if Marco and Danica and Graham were contending for race wins every weekend, that kind of reality is not -- it can't happen every weekend anyway. It's just not normal for there to be the exact same three people.
Graham has won. I've won. Marco has won. We've all won a race. But we're also on the younger side, too. So it's tough to compete against guys like Tony (Kanaan) and Dario (Franchitti) and (Scott) Dixon and the experience that they have. They make us work hard.
It would be great. I'd love to be winning more races. To be honest, we've got a couple top-fives in the season. I remember when I first came to AGR in '07, we were in the top five every weekend as well. So that to me really is contending for wins and racing up front. Let's hope we can keep that trend going and get some wins this year.
MODERATOR: The second part of that was, have you talked about that? Obviously, Marco is a teammate.
DANICA PATRICK: No, you don't. It's not like we sit down and say to each other, 'Oh, gosh, wouldn't you like to be contending for race wins?' That's kind of an obvious answer.
MODERATOR: The last part was, do you think it's fair for you guys to be put in that position as maybe having the pressure to grow the series' popularity?
DANICA PATRICK: I just respond to what's out there and how I feel, the people around me. So I try not to live up to expectations, try not to feel like I have to live up to expectations or be overwhelmed and concerned, overly concerned, with what everyone thinks I should do. I just do what I think I can do.
Q. Everybody seems to have an opinion what NASCAR should or shouldn't do to improve Talladega to make it more safe. What's your take on it?
DANICA PATRICK: It's a little bit hard for me to give too much information as that's not the series that I run in. I pay attention and I know what happened a couple weeks ago. But I don't know the ins and outs of it and the politics of it and everything.
But, I think at the end of the day the safety of the drivers is very important. But it's also important that the fans are given an entertaining race, because that's what they pay the money to come see.
Q. I was wondering, since the first day you showed up there, I was there when that was going on, you've always had this sense or you seem to have this sense for that place. I'm talking about Indianapolis. Being smooth and stuff. I'm wondering, what were a couple of the lessons you've learned about that place over the last several years that you'll incorporate even a little bit more? You touched on it a while ago. Is the key being smooth and being patient and letting the speed come, so to speak, through the week? How do you approach it?
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, it's an interesting place. It's different from every other track really because it's the kind of place that if the car isn't right, you cannot make it go fast. You can't hustle it around. You just can't make it do it.
If you do, quickly the car gets out of control and the track bites you. We're going faster here than anywhere else. I think it's really the one place that we go that the track is sort of a little bit bigger and more powerful than you are. And I think that that makes it really something that you have to respect.
So, I took advice from the veterans in the beginning. I wanted to know, and I still want to know. I still ask opinions about what do I need to know about here? What do I need to remember for the race? Everybody kept saying, 'You need to respect the track.' I think that's where it comes in. If the car isn't good, don't think you can be better than it, don't think you can overcome it. Then I think to be patient in the race. I think that really showed in that first year where I went from the front to the back to the front to the back to the front all in the course of the 500 miles. So being patient is also another really key thing around here.
Other than that, I don't know. I think every now and again you get on with the track really well. I feel lucky that Indy's a place that I've had good races here in the past and been fast.
Q. You had a stout race at Long Beach, followed it up with a stout race at Kansas. I don't think you lack for confidence. When you won in Japan, some people said it was a miles-per-gallon race, so to speak. But do you have more of a sense of feeling really into it as you head into this month? Do you understand what I'm saying, from a confidence standpoint?
DANICA PATRICK: I do. I think I was saying earlier today that it comes in waves a little bit, like when you feel that win coming. It's definitely been one of those things that's been on people's minds, and people have been saying that a lot lately. I've even had people at Kansas say, people close to me, fans are always encouraging, but people that really get a feeling for things. I think you might win this race.
Here we are at Indy. I have to tell you a funny story. I got a fortune cookie at the track. We went out to dinner in Kansas at this sort of Asian sushi place. I'm reading it right now because I hung it up. I had two fortunes in there, to start with. I didn't realize it had a second one. When I turned it over, it says, 'A four-wheeled adventure will soon bring you happiness.' So that's in a fortune cookie, right? That's got to be great.
Q. Like a four-leaf clover times two.
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah.
Q. Danica, there was a lot of changes made with Andretti Green. I know the big thing was Michael (Andretti) paying extra attention, focusing on you instead of all of the team members equally. How is that working out now that we're a couple races into the season?
DANICA PATRICK: I don't think it's a matter of Mike choosing to pay more attention to me; it was a matter of the team using up all of the resources efficiently and well. Over the last couple of years, we've lost personnel here and there, been able to fill in the blanks. And Mike has been one of those guys that's bounced around from car to car, offered his advice on what was going on, what he would do, playing sort of race strategist for all the drivers.
So it was an idea that went around the table. Mike took the job, and he said he buckled under a little bit of peer pressure for it. But it makes sense. He's been around it so much. He still keeps an eye on everybody else, but while we're out there on the track and in the cars, he's on the Boost Mobile car. That's just what the decision was for this year.
Q. Danica, I got to follow up on this fortune cookie. Do you possibly remember the name of the restaurant? Was it near the Speedway?
DANICA PATRICK: I think it was the one right outside the track called STIX. Funny, isn't it?
Q. That gives you a pretty good feeling. You had the good result at Kansas.
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, I don't think it quite lives up to the fortune cookie yet, so I think there's more to come. But we had a good race at Kansas, and so much of the time you really see the cars that are up front at the beginning of the season carry on into Indy and do well there. So let's hope that we keep that trend going.
Q. We talked about this, too, when you were here. You had the two road races, and now the thing about having the first oval before the Indy qualifying. Do you feel that carrying over, too?
DANICA PATRICK: You mean, just getting in sync with the oval racing and stuff?
DANICA PATRICK: I think it's a little bit unique, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's not a two-lane track like Kansas is. It's really one-car-wide, other than a few little things here and there that are always close calls. But the racing's a little bit different here. But I think that just the more diversity and the more racing you do, period, before you arrive at Indy, the more prepared you feel.
Q. My question to you is about your tie-in with Tissot watches. My husband bought me one for Christmas last year, which I really like.
DANICA PATRICK: Oh, good. What kind of watch did you get? I know it was Tissot, but was it the T-Touch?
Q. We got your watch.
DANICA PATRICK: OK, great. Cool.
Q. We got your watch. So my question is, do you still have your tie-in with them? If so, are you looking to do different designs for them in the future?
DANICA PATRICK: Absolutely. I just met with them today here at the track in Indy. I got some new watches. We talked about some of the ideas moving forward for the year, what we want to do. There's some new personnel in there and there's some new, fresh approaches to what we're going to do. And I think we really want to take the relationship to another level and really go after more mainstream things and get into more magazines and get into more of the fashion side of things and just really make the relationship more prominent.
As I'm actually the only female ambassador for a male watch really, I think that it's a cool thing. We're definitely going to keep doing more and more.
Q. Are you doing a male version of the watch?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, actually they usually -- like this year, it really is I think a male watch. I like the larger watches. The T-Touch watches are really unisex. Like I said, I tend to wear bigger watches anyway. So I wear sort of their biggest watches. They're guys' or they're girls' really. It goes across the board. My new one this year could be worn by either.
Q. How do you feel about the qualifying at Indy? Do you have a problem with qualifying? You've done fairly good in the past.
DANICA PATRICK: Well, then that would sort of mean that I don't really have a problem with the qualifying (laughter).
I think it was such a good concept with the four-lap average that we carried it over to all the other oval races that we go to. I think it's a really cool thing. I think that it shakes things up a little bit. For instance, last weekend at Kansas with the four-lap average, my first lap was a little bit slower than all the rest of them. As a result, I missed a spot on the grid because of that.
So, I think that the four-lap average is really cool, and I like it here at Indy. You definitely got to get going, get up to speed, and it really lends to having a good car from the get-go and a good car from the time you start the car and head on out there. I think it's good for the fans, too.
Q. How is your mindset when you're the only one on the track trying to go the fastest?
DANICA PATRICK: I don't know. You don't really think of it much different. The whole week you're really kind of trying to find clear track for yourself. It's really just more sort of a continuation of what you've been doing in the whole week. And then you get the excitement of being able to see exactly what it does.
Q. You seem to have an affinity for Indianapolis. You've had good results there. What is it about that track that suits you or your driving style?
DANICA PATRICK: I don't really know. I like it here. I enjoy it. I embrace the month. I have a lot of fun. What exactly makes me good here or whatever is subjective anyway I think if I do good or not.
I don't really know. The first year I came here, I took the advice from all the people around me, the people that have been here the most. The advice was to respect the track, to be patient, and I do that. So, you know, maybe that's part of it.
Q. You seem to do better on ovals than you do on road courses, even though I think your background was road racing.
DANICA PATRICK: It's funny. I would actually have to say that some of my best results really have come more from road courses actually. I had a second in Detroit in '07. I think I finished fourth or fifth or sixth at Sonoma. I had two front-row starts. I finished fourth I think last year at Sonoma, maybe fifth at Mid-Ohio. I just finished fourth at Long Beach. So actually some of my better results have been on the road courses, but my qualifying isn't quite as good.
I just think it's one of those areas that I haven't really mastered or gotten really good at. Part of it's because there's such incredible road course drivers in our series with (Scott) Dixon and (Dario) Franchitti, (Tony) Kanaan and Will Power, Helio (Castroneves), they're all really great on the road courses. So I've got my work cut out for me. When it comes to the race, it actually tends to go all right.
Q. When you were named to that Time Magazine top 100 influential people list, you put out a statement which you thanked the people around you for keeping you grounded. Can you go into that a little bit? Are you talking about your teammates, your husband...
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, I think I'm predominantly speaking about my family and the people closest to me that see me every day and help me every day, are a part of it all, know me for a long time. They're the ones that say, 'Look, you need to get out there and you need to sign, or you need to calm down, you need to do this.' They don't let me just be the boss. They're not 'yes' people. They're my family, and they're my closest friends. They're helping me the best that I can be.
I think that that's really what I mean when I say people that have helped keep me grounded. They just really are trying to help me be the best me.
Q. How much stock do you put in a list like that? A lot of big names on there. You beat out quite a few celebrities. How much stock do you put in that?
DANICA PATRICK: Oh, well, gosh, I mean, a lot. It's very nice. There was voting for it. Just with all the other things that I've done outside of the car and inside the car, it's making a difference. It's a real honor just to be thought of to be on the list, and then to make it and beat out such other amazing people. It's a real honor. I thank them very much.
Q. Don't take this personal, but were there any aero readings or downforce numbers on that hat you wore Saturday?
DANICA PATRICK: My derby hat (laughter)? I was running some low downforce because it was very uncomfortable. Like when you're sitting down at the table there, at the event, I had to look up so far that I had a headache from getting past the brim of my hat. I wouldn't describe it as a comfy setup.
Q. You came in Indy last year after having won a race. But would you say, other than that, you're off to your best start that you've had so far to your season?
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, I actually have to say this is probably one of the best starts. Even the one that we DNF'd in St. Petersburg, we were on a two-stop strategy. The other people that were on a two-stop strategy finished first, second, third, fourth, fifth. We were one of them. It would have been a top-six finish if I were part of that two-stop strategy. I think we would have been looking at three top-five finishes and doing well in the championship. Other years in the past, we've not done as well.
So I would agree. I'd say so, yeah. I felt really good about my oval race in Kansas. The racing was close. I was pushing. I was happy. I was one of the first people to jump up high at the beginning of the race and pass around the outside. That was one of the things we worked really hard to get to.
Q. Other than the obvious answer, to finish first after 200 laps, what are the things you need to do this year to win the Indy 500?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I think that it would be the easiest to start in the front and just stay there. I think that we're going to obviously work hard to qualify well. I think it's a matter of, in the past the qualifying's been reasonably good, but it's a matter of staying there. I think that's going to be the real focus, is just to not drop back and to not lose positions on the track on starts or restarts, to stay on top of the car throughout the race and keep up with the way that the track is changing, and then to have really clean pit stops. I think that's going to have to be a really, really big focus for me, getting in and out of the pits and getting in and out of the box at full speed all the time. If we do those things well, I hope we can qualify well and then I believe that we can stay there. Then it will be a shootout in the end.
There's no doubt that you do have to have a fast car to win the Indy 500, because it usually comes to that last sort of 20 laps or five-lap shootout where it's all about speed.
Q. I wanted to ask you about what I call the kinder, gentler Danica Patrick.
DANICA PATRICK: Yes (laughter).
Q. Versus the first race you were trying not to be mad all weekend, then (Raphael) Matos took you into the boards at St. Petersburg, you didn't smack him like we thought you might. Where is that all coming from?
DANICA PATRICK: Is it OK, do you think? Do you think this is OK that I'm a little bit more calm?
Q. Yeah. I was just wondering... .
DANICA PATRICK: I hope I'm not boring anybody (laughter).
I've learned from the past. Look, the emotional Danica is still there, but there's a time and a place. The time and place is not every weekend. So it's just easier. I think I always felt in the past like I had to prove to people that I cared and that I wasn't happy being fifth or 12th or something by being mad. It just doesn't really pay off, and it turns people off. It's a lot easier and a lot more fun to be relaxed. It's all bunnies and rainbows around here (laughter).
Q. I also wanted to ask you, you have a lot of fans. Obviously, there's a lot of younger fans, especially girls. Do you think having all those fans affects what you do and some of your decisions? Are you thinking, 'What are my fans going to think about that?'
DANICA PATRICK: I don't think in the moment I think about them. I have been lucky enough to be myself and be just really true to my character and personality the whole time. But I'd say in the decision-making process when it comes to doing articles or interviews or photo shoots or anything, I do think about what's good and what's bad and what's right and what's wrong, kind of just where I want to take my brand and what direction I want to go with it.
I always do the things that I really want to do and have fun with. But if I'm on the fence about it, or if it's really not going to be good for image, then we just don't do them. I don't take for granted that little kids follow me and that I have a following from them, and I respect that. I want to do a good job for them, and part of that is being a good role model.
MODERATOR: All right, Danica. Thanks a lot for joining us. Good luck this month.
DANICA PATRICK: Thank you. Bye.
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