Q&A with Danica Patrick at ARCA test SPEEDtv.com columnist Robin Miller sat down with Danica Patrick Friday in a live exclusive one-on-one interview on SPEED from ARCA testing at Daytona International Speedway. Following is a transcript from the interview.
Miller: When you guys tested in Indy cars here, you got to run a couple of corners here. The first time you drove down the straightaway at Indy and what that felt like going into turn one and comparable to here? It’s a completely different mindset.
Patrick: It seems like it (car) asks for a lot of patience. Also, just a comparison I’ve already kind of felt is when you go faster in an Indy car, the faster you go, the more speed you get going, the better it feels because you just keep producing more downforce. But in these cars, it seems like the faster you go, kind of the more they start moving around and you’re like, ‘Oh, boy’ and I was really slow with the throttle, really slow with the brake because you don’t want to upset it because it just feels like it’s lifting up more. It will be interesting how it feels on these bigger tracks.
Miller: One of the great secrets last week was your test at Disney World … you got to run four-and-a-half hours. Just your impressions of the brakes … completely different way to drive a car?
Patrick: The brakes - they’re pretty good, they don’t lock the car up too quick. I feel like I can use quite a bit of pressure. Still not, I guess, the pressure reads that I’m getting in an Indy car. I felt like I could get on them. The cars really are responsive to driver input. I found myself getting into the corner, getting off the brake and rolling a lot of speed and, almost mid-corner, just dipping the brake a little and getting the nose down. That way, I could get to full throttle sooner so that it didn’t push all the way to the wall. Look at that – I’m using the word ‘push’ already.
Miller: You were prepared for the fact that they don’t have the brakes that IndyCar has?
Patrick: I kind of knew that. I drove a Busch car, I guess it was nine years ago actually. It was kind of funny – in the airport, I saw one of the crew chiefs that day – his name was Harold Holly. I saw him in the airport and I didn’t recognize him because he cut his hair short. He had a mullet. I didn’t recognize him after that. I was starting to reminisce about how that car felt but I remember the first thing I said was, ‘Check the brakes. They don’t work. I push on them and I feel like there’s air in the brakes or something.’ Then sure enough, there was no air. I don’t know if cars have come along a little or not but I had a pretty well-prepared car the other day.
Miller: I have lunch every week with a bunch of old Indy car guys and we’re always fighting about what’s good and bad about racing. They’re all like, ‘She knows nothing about stock car racing and it’s going to be a daunting experience.’ How could it be more daunting than going to England when you’re 16 years old without your parents? Do you ever think about that and think, ‘Boys, I’ve been through this before?’
Patrick: Yeah, that’s a good analogy because when I went to England, I was excited but I also didn’t know what to expect. It’s the same kind of thing - I’m excited but I also don’t know what to expect right now. I have a feeling it’s one thing to drive all by yourself but it’s another thing to add a whole bunch of cars and start drafting and that whole thing. They’ve already started teaching me about how the air works off the side of the car … there’s just all kinds of stuff to learn. I started drawing pictures actually, using boxes as cars. I’m trying to figure it out.
Miller: Dale Jr. is a big advocate of I-racing. I know a lot of guys have said it’s really helped them in certain situations but you’ve said you’ve never done much of it.
Patrick: With this rain situation, we were in there and I went on iracing.com for the first time and I’m ready to get booted up. They’re going to send me a whole kit with steering wheels and pedals and everything. It’s cool – if anything fast-forwards the learning curve, that’s good. But they were making a comment about how fast Justin (Wilson) was and they said they were running at Watkins Glen. I’m like, ‘Yeah, well, he won there.’ They weren’t even close. One of the guys thought that he’d be within a couple of tenths of him and I’m like, ‘Some people aren’t even within a couple of tenths of him in real qualifying on a race weekend, let alone on I-race.’ Then you’ve got NASCAR guys who are used to running ovals.
Miller: The interesting thing watching the drivers’ meeting this morning was six or seven of the drivers were taking your picture, which just cracks me up because that’s the guys you’re going to be racing against in a couple of months.
Patrick: They’re going to be able to teach me something, I’m sure. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot out there.
Miller: I think I met you in ’95 or ’96. Look at your body of work already. I understand why Sam Hornish Jr. did what he did – he won the Indy 500 and the championship. I understand why Dario did it. This is all about opportunity and when I met you in ’96, you had no idea what was going to happen. It’s like when someone like Go Daddy or JR Motorsports comes along, ‘I’ve got to jump in.’
Patrick: I am excited about the opportunity. Just over the last couple of years watching the transition that the IndyCar Series has made with its schedules and tracks and everything. It’s not that I don’t enjoy that, as well. There’s probably nothing more rewarding than being fast on a road course because it’s really up to you. But on the other hand, the races, there’s a lack of racing and not much passing that happens (in IndyCar). It came to how much I liked oval racing, short ovals, mile-and-a-half, side-by-side, the challenge of the short ovals, the chess match that is the two-mile ovals – it’s just interesting to me. I’m excited to do more of that and that’s going to come with all this running.
Miller: When you think about NASCAR, open wheel people get a pretty bad rap I think. Nobody really came and tried to make a living doing it until a few years ago. You’ve got yourself in the best position with these people (JR Motorsports) from what Tony Jr. and Sr. said the other day, you had a good test the other day.
Patrick: Yeah and Kelly Bires was there. Explaining how much help I’m getting, he went out and drove the Nationwide quickly and did five or six laps and said, ‘It’s good. Hop in and run it.’ Then he jumped in the ARCA car and said, ‘It’s not right. Work on it. Don’t get in it yet. You won’t like this.’ He was giving me the chance to run in a car that was comfortable and something that I could learn from. It was that kind of car – it was right on the edge. You made an adjustment, it went to over-steer, under-steer or tight or push. You kept going on that balancing act and I learned a lot.
Miller: When Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman started out, they started out with a bunch of ARCA races and a few Nationwide races. Is there some thought to running some more ARCA races? It seems like the more, the merrier.
Patrick: I think it’s really about the schedule, too. Like you said, I must not like sleeping. With running the full IndyCar Series and that being the focus and this kind of filling in the blanks but also making sure that it’s not filling in so many blanks that I can’t perform in IndyCar like I want to, we have to be careful. If the opportunity was there to run an ARCA race and it was easy and convenient, we’d probably do it. But I also think the real focus is going to be running the Nationwide races, though.
Miller: There have been reports you’re not going to run Daytona (Nationwide). But you didn’t say that yesterday – you said you were just going to see how the ARCA race went and see how things felt, right?
Patrick: Yeah, I just think it’s premature to make a decision like that. I think that it’s been suggested by many people that that’s probably the craziest place to start because you’re running a Cup race for your first race. That’s the point of running Nationwide – because it’s not a Cup race. But that one is because there’s so many guys in it. It’s been suggested maybe you start the next weekend. I’m just listening to all these suggestions. That’s why I’m running Nationwide and why I’m doing this ARCA race because that was everyone’s suggestion of what to do. Being a driver, I’m competitive and want to be on the top. I thought I’d go from IndyCar to Cup but that’s not what people say is a good idea. If someone says to run Daytona, then I’ll run Daytona. It’s not the end of the world.
Miller: Have you thought about trying to sprinkle some in during the IndyCar season?
Patrick: Yeah, I think our plan is to run a few races through the summer after Indy maybe. That’s the idea right now. We still haven’t nailed down exactly the places we’re going to go to. But we do plan on running a few.