SPEED Quotes: Danica Patrick on Wind Tunnel IndyCar Series driver Danica Patrick, recent focus of intense media scrutiny over her potential jump to NASCAR, joined guest host Tommy Kendall (four-time Trans Am champion and host of Test Drive on SPEED) Sunday on Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain on SPEED. She discussed returning to Motegi, Japan, where she made history with her first series win last year, her attitude change, her contract negotiations with Andretti Green Racing and recent shake-ups within the organization.
Following is the transcript from the interview:
Tommy Kendall: I remember having to get on my scooter and going almost to another zip code to visit your paddock in Montreal. But now you’re harder to get to for another reason. You’re close by but you’re hard to get into to see. Do you ever long for the days when things were a little simpler, you weren’t scrutinized as heavily and it was just all about driving?
Danica Patrick: There are some perks to that because it’s a little bit more calm and quiet. But after the race ended in Chicago last night, I got back to my bus and as I’m scootering back to my bus, there are people with big stand-up cutouts of me and posters and I cross by them. I go stand at the bus and I’m in hometown Chicago and there are 30 people standing there and a couple of people I hadn’t seen. So, I had to hurry up and buzz into the bus before people just started getting collected at the bus wanting autographs and then I’d spend all the time doing that instead of talking to my family and friends. So, there are times when I definitely feel trapped in the bus but it’s short-term and predictable at the race track.
Tommy Kendall: You seem to have turned a corner with how you deal with everything that comes with being the trailblazer that you have become. I know you well enough to know this isn’t just window-dressing. There really has been a shift. Why are you so much more at ease now?
Danica Patrick: I think I just finally stopped worrying so much about what people thought. I used to really think that being mad proved to people that I wasn’t okay with sixth or eighth or second or whatever. I wanted them to really believe that I wanted to win every time and believed I could win. So, I kind of put on that face as some sort of - I don’t know - mask or something. But I’m kind of past that now. I’m sure that all these little things along the way have helped – winning my first race last year and settling in. I think it’s just a lot of wasted energy and I’m trying to take your advice, Tommy, that you told me so many years ago, that I’m perfect for this moment, and I try to tell myself that.
Tommy Kendall: You’re heading back to Motegi, where you made history. Do you think about that day a lot and what it meant?
Danica Patrick: I do, yeah, especially when I see clips and things of the event but I have to tell that you that I’m getting to the point almost where I feel like I haven’t won still because it was way over a year ago now, and it’s a new season and I was having good results at the beginning of the year and I really thought I was going to get a win in earlier this year and it didn’t happen. Then we got to the road courses and it was challenging and as a team, we struggled. It was kind of frustrating. I went to an art museum today and saw the Japan exhibit and I was getting all excited again. I think I’ll have some level of confidence when I go back because I won last year.
Tommy Kendall: Going back there, how do you feel your chances are? You led your first laps there. You had your first front-row start there and obviously your first win.
Danica Patrick: I really feel good. I just had a feeling all year that one of these is going to turn out and I wouldn’t mind if it was Motegi again. I love it there. I’ve done really well in the past and I see no reason why that should change, although the competition in the IndyCar Series is only getting harder. I’m sure it will be the most difficult year yet but I’m up for the challenge.
Tommy Kendall: I’ve got a bone to pick with you. We have a quote about whether you’d be making an announcement (about her contract) tonight and the quote is, ‘I don’t think we would make an announcement on that kind of show.’ That hits close to home because I am Wind Tunnel, at least for tonight. Tell us what you can tell us about what will happen next year.
Danica Patrick: It’s not like ‘that kind of show’ – it’s a show. To be honest, anything I ever say is picked apart and there are people that don’t want me to say certain things or this-and-that. It only causes confusion, so I think the easiest thing for me is to really just say nothing.
Tommy Kendall: How important is this next contract? You’re still young. Do you view this as pivotal?
Danica Patrick: Every single one of them is important. It really is. They’re a new opportunity to show people what I can do. They’re all important. That’s all I can say. You want to give yourself the best chance as a driver to go out there and win races and run up front every weekend.
Tommy Kendall: Recently you made some comments that you like some of the changes Michael (Andretti) has been making. Why is he making those changes and why are you optimistic and why do you think those are the first steps in the right direction for the team?
Danica Patrick: I don’t really know. I don’t know what is going on internally with all the owners at Andretti Green. I’m just a driver – it’s that simple. But from the outside looking in, when things aren’t going well – we have struggled this year. We haven’t won any races this year as a team in the IndyCar Series. They just won the Indy Lights championship but in the IndyCar Series, we haven’t won any races this year. We’ve really struggled on the road courses. When that situation is going on, you just hope that there is something that changes – something somewhere because those decisions are being made for a good reason and I don’t think we as drivers always know what they are but the fact that there are changes means simply something is going to change and we need that as a team to move forward.
Tommy Kendall: What is the IRL itself doing, how hard are they working to convince you to stay in IndyCar? What is the IRL doing to keep you in IndyCar?
Danica Patrick: I don’t know entirely everything going on with the talks. My agents have had conversations with lots of people. Really what I know about is the racing side of things. I’m sorry I’m being so boring for you. The racing side of things is that they are looking for things to change in performance. They’re looking for ways to make passing out there, make the racing more exciting. If anyone watched the Chicago race last night, it’s almost so close of racing, it’s not fun even. It’s crazy. You just hope you don’t crash every lap because you’re three-wide and there’s row after row of that going on. We’ve got ‘Push-to-Pass’ (button that provides a series of 12-second horsepower boosts) and the option red tires on the road courses and the new downforce pieces for the mile-and-a-halves and I think that that’s making really great racing. I think that from what I experience as a driver in the IndyCar Series, they’re making good steps forward but I don’t think they’re big enough yet. But they’re in the right direction.