An interview with Danica Patrick
DANICA PATRICK: Hi.
MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us. She's in her fifth season in the IndyCar Series, and her third driving the No. 7 Boost Mobile/Motorola entry for Andretti Green Racing. She ranks fifth in points as the IndyCar Series prepares for racing on four consecutive weekends. And she's one of three drivers with four top-five finishes in the season's first six races.
So Danica, first of all, congratulations on a strong start to the season. That stretch of four consecutive top-five finishes came on a very diverse set of tracks, and really kind of the first stretch like that in your IndyCar Series career.
Can you give us your perspective on the start of the season, and what it means to be able to put together a string of consistent finishes like that?
DANICA PATRICK: As we say each year, it's always nice to start the season off well. It always seems to get to the end of the season when you're counting your every point. So it's nice when it starts out well. It would have been even nicer if we finished at St. Petersburg, and we would have been looking much better in the points. Everyone has their DNF's on the year. Since then we've been doing well, having a lot of fun, and having success.
MODERATOR: Now we've got four consecutive races coming up. If you would, tell us about each of those tracks, and how you've done in the past, and what it will take to continue finishing up at the front?
DANICA PATRICK: We have Iowa coming up this weekend. It's been OK there. It's tough to race there. It used to be a tough place to pass because everyone was just running the bottom, and the long way around was the long way around, and you couldn't make up enough ground.
In the last year, you could pass a little bit better on the outside. The car did go off a little bit, and you could pick up some understeer or something like that and it would make it a little easier to pass. But still the high line is a long way around there. It's more of a traditional line than in recent times. So qualifying is really important.
Then we go to Richmond, and it's sort of the same thing. It's difficult to pass at Richmond, even more so really than Iowa I would say.
But we had a little bit of side‑by‑side racing last year because there were more cars and we took up more space on the track. Again, it's going to really, really lend to qualifying well and then just staying up there. So I would say qualifying is going to be important the next two weekends.
Then we go to the Glen. And the Glen is a place where I haven't traditionally done well. We were testing up there last week. The tests went well, and we've made improvements and will continue to make improvements, so I think I'm looking forward to the Glen more so.
I really enjoy the permanent road courses we've gone to in the past couple of years. They seem to be more of my strong suit on the road courses. Then we go to Toronto. A place that is back on the schedule for us that is really exciting. Canadian fans are fantastic fans. They love their racing. They're very educated.
It's also a place that my boss, Mr. Andretti has done very well at, and being on my car, that's nice. I look forward to going back there, but I haven't been there in a big car. The last time I was there, I was in Atlantic, so I'm sure it will be quite different.
Q. Talk about your good start to the year? And the big question is this is your contract year that you're doing better than you ever have it gives you a lot of leverage in a position. Have you given any specific instruction to the folks at IMG about what you want to do in 2010?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, we've definitely had many conversations about what I'm looking for and my goals, and so, we've had a lot of those conversations, but really, it's kind of about collecting information at this point and seeing what our options are, and then we'll talk deeper after that. But at this point in time it's about collecting the information.
Q. So reports this week that you're into heavy negotiations with Ganassi's NASCAR team, any concrete fact behind that story?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, we'll definitely be looking at on our options. They are one of the top three teams in the IndyCar Series. But then again, I'm also driving for one of those top three teams in the IndyCar Series. So it's going to have to be a really good option for me as a driver and as a brand to expand beyond, because I already drive for a great team. So we'll just have to see.
Q. Touching back on the consistency a bit, you've got to be pleased with that. But at the same time, is it somewhat frustrating that being up front in that front group hasn't led to more opportunities to lead and really challenge for a win? Outside of running top five?
DANICA PATRICK: I'm sorry, what is your question?
Q. I'm just wondering if you're feeling good, obviously, about the consistency to start the season. But how much nicer would it fill to be challenging a little more for the win in more of these races?
DANICA PATRICK: That's my job as a driver, and I feel if we can keep continuing and keep competing where we're at right now, those opportunities will present themselves more frequently. So, we'll be hoping for that situation every time we go out on the track.
The problem is there are a lot of other drivers that are working for that, too.
Q. We were just at the Brickyard talking to Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon about tire wear. You hit on this earlier that last year at Iowa was a pretty good show. It just seems the tires are so good that maybe that's one of the reasons it's been so hard to pass this year. You got any thoughts on that?
DANICA PATRICK: I think the times that we've had the most amount of interesting racing and exciting racing and ultimately passing is when you have to do things like look after your tires a little bit more. I was able to capitalize on some of that in Milwaukee. That track is very tough on the tires. So, yeah. I think whenever the tires do go off, it creates more of those opportunities. So that might be a good alternative to making the racing better seeming as we're all so close now.
Q. I wanted to touch on basically how good you've been on the road courses this year, too, and actually through the last couple of years. I'm just wondering do you attribute some of that to the move to the paddle shifter? How much has that helped you keep both hands on the wheel, so to speak. And how you've stepped up that part of your game?
DANICA PATRICK: It has gone better. Most of it has come from just the experience and getting used to the cars - getting on top of the car a little more and having it be mine instead of the car driving me a little bit, which is what I think it was in the beginning. It was really about getting used to the size and speed and everything. So I definitely feel like I'm more in control of it. Did it take longer than I wanted it to? Yeah. But I think we're finally getting it now.
Other than that, the car has been basically the same. We have the paddle shifters now, but the funny thing was I don't know what it is, but I was fortunate my hands were unblistered and good, and I was strong enough to do it. You never know. I think it's helping all of us to some degree, but I was OK before. So I think it's been just getting used to the car.
Q. From a strength standpoint you would think that if you had any kind of situation where you weren't matching the boys strength‑wise, it would show up at the end of the races. But it seems you've been stout at the end of the road courses, even Mid-Ohio and places like that.
Have you found a different workout regimen that's helped you in that regard? Is it just an evolution a little bit?
DANICA PATRICK: I think most of it is evolution. But as years go on, I fine tune and find ways to be stronger and have more control. At the end of the day, the only thing that's happened with the car is it's gotten heavier for me. I really think it's just getting used to it. We have so little control over things in racing. The one thing I have control over is my physical strength and ability, so it is something I take seriously.
Q. Do you find more joy in turning a quick lap at like a Mid-Ohio than you do at Iowa where you're going this week? Do you know what I mean? As a driver?
DANICA PATRICK: Oh, yes. You have a million times more joy turning a good lap on a road course than an oval. The oval is the real challenge, and the art form to it is the racing.
On the road courses, you're racing against yourself most of the time. And on the ovals you're racing against everyone else. So I look forward to getting to some road courses and having those moments.
Q. Back to what you were being asked a while ago about the interest and stuff. Have you found that this is a tough economic times right now for a lot of people and lot of teams and stuff. Have you found there to be more interest than expected in you from wherever it is you're looking? Have you been surprised by that? Has it been what you thought it would be or has it been less?
DANICA PATRICK: As a driver and as a brand, I can only hope that people will be talking about me. Yeah, I'm always very flattered whenever I'm brought up in conversation or brought up in the newspapers. A friend of ours said that because he was at the grocery store overhearing a couple people talking about IndyCar and NASCAR, so to be in those conversations are very flattering. It's all good news. Hopefully we can keep our heads down and figure it out and make a good decision.
Q. Go back to your conversations you were discussing with your agent and stuff. You mentioned goals. What kind of goals do you have in mind? Do you care about sharing those at all?
DANICA PATRICK: I think the most important thing for me is to put myself in a situation where I can win as many races as possible and run up front and be in that competitive situation. That's the most important thing. Because at the end of the day, usually the best press comes when I'm doing things on track. That's really the most important thing for me as a driver. So that's where the ultimate focus is going to go.
Then aside from that and after that there has to be thoughts, to the brand side of the situation, and being able to make the most of myself as an athlete and as an endorser of products and things like that and gaining exposure so that in due time I'm able to explore other things outside of racing maybe even. So, all of that comes afterwards. The most important thing is kicking butt out there.
Q. Following up on economics in NASCAR country being devastated by the bad economy. How much of that trickles down to the IndyCar Series? How much are you feeling it?
DANICA PATRICK: I have to say that we've stood up pretty well. We've lost some cars from last year, but then again it was so fresh and new with the merging of the series. So, I do think that it's been pretty good for us. Knock on wood. We've stood up to it. In my particular situation, it was awesome to have ‑‑ we got Boost to come along and be a partner with Motorola on the car, so that's a growth from last year for us. So, I'm optimistic.
I think all the things going on in IndyCar it's positive, and moving in a forward motion.
Q. Is there anything you have to cut back on at all or anything you're noticing missing recently?
DANICA PATRICK: There have been some things that have been done along the way that have been noticed a little. We have less sets of tires on a race weekend or things like that that are trying to reduce costs by reducing the engine miles and in turn then having to have less engine builds and stuff like that. So there have been those kinds of things starting on track at the Indy 500 and having two less days during that month. So there have been some things that have happened.
But I wouldn't say it's been - it hasn't killed us or anything. It's just little things I notice. Eight sets of tires versus nine, what do we do? It would be nice to have them. But then again, I'm a driver, and I would say that, wouldn't I?
Q. I'm not sure I've read anywhere where Andretti Green has made a new contract offer to you. I wonder if they have. Also, the fact that you're having such a solid season, and you enjoy working with Michael does that kind of give AGR, like the leader in the clubhouse status with anything that's going on right now?
DANICA PATRICK: I think we're working towards some things together. But, it's been a great situation this year with Mike (Andretti), and with my new engineer, Eddie (Jones). The crew has been having a great time. We've been getting along. It's the same crew from last year, basically.
So it's just been a really ‑‑ we're all working together and most importantly having a good time at it. So, I think that whenever you're in a situation where you're doing well, it's always very attractive, and you don't want to lose that. So we'll just have to see where that goes.
Q. At Texas, there was a lot of post‑race talk about how the racing there was not up to par with previous years. Did you agree that the racing there, you couldn't pass, you couldn't use the high line, or was that sour grapes from guys that couldn't catch Helio (Castroneves)?
DANICA PATRICK: There was some passing, but I think as time goes on and we get closer and closer and one more year with the same car, and just developing the smallest little things, I think it does get tougher and tougher. There is less difference in speed. In years past, there was different aero packages that you could upgrade to and buy and stuff like that. Now it's just everybody's got the same thing.
So I mean, as a driver I've been on the good side of things before where you've got the right car and the right engine. I long for those days again where you had an upper hand on a chunk of the field. But on the other hand, it's the most competitive and toughest racing, I think, in a long time because we are so close and because every last thing is so critical.
So, at the end of the day, it would be nice to have some different options and have some difference in speed or, at least someone has bottom end and someone has top end, somebody has good fuel, and somebody has speed, something like that.
But it's the way of the world right now, and the economy, and it's the option that we have. So we're all making the most of it, and trying to also put on as good of a show for the crowd as possible.
Q. As somebody who is a hot commodity in racing and is going to have your pick in opportunities next year, when looking at the NASCAR possibility, how much does your struggle with what Sam (Hornish Jr.) has had and Dario's (Franchitti) been through, how much does that weigh how you look at that?
DANICA PATRICK: I think it's something to take notice of. I think what it shows is it is difficult. You do need as much help as possible. But as credit to them, they haven't been driving for the best teams in NASCAR either. So how can you really hold them accountable for not doing extremely well in the very beginning when they just don't have the resources.
Now they're getting the hang of it. And Sam's (Hornish Jr.) doing much better, and Juan's (Pablo Montoya) doing better. I think that things are moving ‑‑ they're doing better overall. But, they don't drive for Hendrick or Roush or any of the top teams. So I think it's a tough one.
Q. Well, there is talk that at least one of those teams would be very interested in talking to you. Is that the kind of opportunity in NASCAR that might kind of bring you over that way?
DANICA PATRICK: As I said earlier, for me the most important thing is performing and having the ability and having the resources to get there faster. So, yeah, when it's a top team calling, it makes it more attractive.
Q. IndyCar drivers, open-wheel racers in general, it seems like whenever they get near the top, they immediately become the object of speculation that they're going to go to NASCAR. Is that just a fact of life because NASCAR's still kind of king? Or how do you look at that?
DANICA PATRICK: I think one thing is as drivers is we like to challenge ourselves. If we've done something well, can we do the next thing well? So I think it's the opportunity to show your ability.
But NASCAR has so many viewers and so many partners. There are just lots of options both inside and outside the car. So there's reasons, and it looks like fun. There are 40‑odd guys that do it every year. I'm not sure how many the number is this year. But, obviously, it's a good time. Oval racing is always fun. It's you racing against everyone else, it's very competitive.
It's kind of like the Indy 500 every weekend. That's a lot of fun as a driver to be part of something important, and something people want to watch.
Q. Would you say how many other NASCAR teams have been involved in discussions about the future, how many have you heard from?
DANICA PATRICK: I'm not sure. That's not for me to handle. That's what I leave up to my agents, and as they tell me, which is the best thing, 'All I have to do is go out there and perform and they'll take care of the rest,' so that's what I'm going to do.
Q. There was a report this past weekend ‑‑ I know you've aligned yourself with IMG, and there was a report that George Pine is the president of IMG, of course, and former chief operating officer of NASCAR. And this report intimated that he may be trying to push you in that direction. I guess, two‑part question, are you close with George, and is he maybe pushing you a little bit towards considering NASCAR?
DANICA PATRICK: I've spoken to him before, but I don't think anyone's trying to push me. They really want to just know what my thoughts are and what I want to do. At this point, I just want to know what my options are. So that's the point at which we're at right now is just collecting data and figuring out what our options really are - who is really serious.
So, that's just the point we're at.
Q. You've talked a lot about your brand during this call and other stories I've read this year. No matter where you go, no matter what decision you make on your future, is that brand going to change at all? Are you looking at changing the direction of sponsors or endorsement opportunities that you align with?
DANICA PATRICK: I think that's something that with IMG we've taken a much harder look at. We do a whole thing where you collect all the information about what things have happened in your career and what sort of roads you can take. I think we're going to streamline things a little bit more and be a little bit more specific and poignant on the things that we're looking towards that attribute to the brand and elevate the brand. So, no, I don't think it's going to change, but it will probably get a little bit more clear.
Q. I'll confess I'm a follower. I know you tweeted earlier today, you did yoga for the first time in two months.
DANICA PATRICK: Is that bad if I'm still in my yoga gear right now? (Laughing)
Q. The obvious question is are you seeking some sort of solace or comfort as you arrive at crossroads in your future career?
DANICA PATRICK: I think that the one important thing that they stress so much in yoga that really does ‑‑ it's really life and that's breath. In moments of stress, you need to remind yourself to breathe a little bit. So if I can take the sort of competitive angle that a lot of times I can take into things and try to at least train myself to listen to my body a little bit more and breathe a few extra times, I think that's probably a good thing.
Q. I'm just wondering, you mentioned earlier that you've been to Toronto before in Atlantic a couple of times. I guess with the race not being there last year, the switch to the new series, there's a whole bunch of things going on. Lot of new stuff for that race this year. Just wondering can you talk about what you think will happen on that track? How much opportunity there will be for passing? How the cars will be? And do you guys as drivers have to do a little extra that weekend to give it a bump to get that spirit back?
DANICA PATRICK: Well since my team is running the race, usually a little extra does come into play for Andretti Green drivers, but as St. Petersburg is the other track. But how fantastic that your team is that engaged and interested in the series moving forward and picking up some awesome races like Toronto and stuff like that.
I've been there in Atlantics. It changes a little when you get going faster. Usually the passing zones are less. You just get to point A and point B that much quicker. But the real passing zone is really going to be down the front straight into Turn 1, probably, depending on how well your car turns through those high speed esses. And then on to the back straight, and into the slow hairpin into the back straight. Now that's a remedy for disaster because there are walls all around and nowhere to go. But, that's street racing.
So as normal, it's going to be important to qualify up front and/or have a good strategy.
Q. Do you think fans will notice any difference? IRL cars are made for ovals and not going to be as quick. Do you think fans will notice or care?
DANICA PATRICK: Oh, no. Our cars are fast, and they're great. They're not that much different. Are you comparing to the Champ Cars?
DANICA PATRICK: I don't think you're going to notice the difference. The sound might be a little bit different. But at the end of the day, I barely notice the difference, so I highly doubt that people that don't drive the cars will notice too much. But I don't know, maybe they will. I hope they like it better.
Q. Just talk about Toronto and how important do you think it is to the IRL with the new merged series having a solid race there?
DANICA PATRICK: I think that it doesn't really matter where it's at. I think every race that the IndyCar Series goes to and performs at, we need to put on a great show. We need to expand our fan base and give everyone something that they're excited about come next year. So that's something that we work on every weekend.
The drivers do the best that we can to make as many passes as possible and make it entertaining. So hopefully it's a really great show and everybody in Toronto is really excited that the IndyCar Series is back.
Q. In regard to your contract, do you have a timeline for when you plan to make an announcement? By that I mean, is it your desire to wait until the IndyCar Series season is over, and that would take us to mid-October before you publicly announce anything? Or do you have something in else in mind?
DANICA PATRICK: My general answer would be that I hope I have a good Christmas and know what I'm doing for next year. That would be worst-case scenario. But at the end of the day, I want to do well this year. I want to do well in the series, I want to finish as high as possible, I want to win as many races as I can, so I don't want to do anything that would take away from that being able to happen. So to be open very about anything to that point would be foolish. That's for after the season, and we'll worry about it then, and deal with that then
Q. So, in other words, it's after the season?
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, and there might be even some legal things. I have to look at the contract. But I'm not sure when I can actually say what I'm going to do. But I don't want to even worry about it until the seasons over anyway.
Q. You've made several references to brand. What, in your eyes, is your brand?
DANICA PATRICK: My brand is determined, it's feminine and hopefully - I feel awkward talking about myself like this - but it's something beautiful, something fast, something interesting and exciting and something inspiring and something iconic and something that's doing things that's never been done before. Those are all things that I would hope would describe my brand and that we are going to move down the path on showing through the people that we work with and the things that we do and the way we do them.
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