Danica Patrick was a guest Tuesday night on the Speed Channel’s NASCAR Race Hub show and handled the questions put to her by co-hosts John Roberts and Adam Alexander pretty well, I thought.
What was particularly surprising to me was not her media-trained I-really-like-NASCAR stuff but her backhanded slap at Indy Car (formerly the IRL) in which she said, in so many words, that she didn’t like all the road and street courses now on the schedule [Editor's Note: Let's be quite frank about this and stop giving Danica the white glove treatment. Because road courses take more talent to excel at she runs as a backmarker. Because ovals are 99% car she is usually better at 100% throttle oval racing].
Danica has had her greatest success in the Indy cars on the ovals – at Indianapolis, in particular, and her one win came on an oval in Japan – so it’s natural for her to like ovals. But she was forthright that she didn’t like the direction Indy Car is going and that’s significant. [Editor's Note: She realizes her shortcomings and is using this as an excuse to get out before her image deteriorates further.]
Speed sent out a transcript of the interview.
Roberts: Are you having fun with this?
Patrick: I am. I’m having a lot of fun. When I drove the car for the first time (at Walt Disney World Speedway) and then at Daytona, I realized that I actually like the car more than I thought I would. I think the racing seems like it’s going to be really cool, really fun, really tough. I tried to bump the cars in front of me at Daytona and I couldn’t do it. I was excited to. Tony Eury Jr. came on the radio and he’s like, ‘Go give him a bump.’ And I was like, ‘Hit him?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, hit him.’ And I was like, ‘Okay.’ And I was talking all kinds of trash that I was going to be doing this and then I couldn’t. It is much more difficult than I thought it would be. But it was fun, it was cool. You can run so close in these cars.
Alexander: At what point in your IndyCar career did you say NASCAR is something I might one day want to be a part of?
Patrick: I started thinking about it about a year or two ago, checking it out and looking at it. I don’t love some of the things we’re doing in Indy Car. I don’t love all the tracks. We’re racing on a lot more road courses and there’s not as much passing, so I kind of started saying …
I love an Indy car. It’s a challenge. They’re very hard … they’re tough to drive and they have an open-wheel race car feel to them but some of the things I wasn’t so excited about. So when things started to transition (more road and street races added, such as this year’s opening race in Brazil), I started saying, ‘Hmm …it (NASCAR) would be kind of fun.’ I’ve really grown to love oval racing, I think is what I’ve found.
Roberts: We all know how difficult it is in any brand of motor sports to go out and win a race. How much pressure is there to win a race and when does that pressure kick in?
Patrick: I kind of felt the pressure to perform right after I won in Japan for the first time and before that. It’s our job as a driver to win races and it’s what we all try to do. There’s always pressure there. There’s always pressure from everyone around you because that’s what they want, as well. And then just your own expectations.
We’re working really hard at Andretti (Indy Car) over the winter to bring things together and have cars that maybe perform just a little bit better and have everything working more efficiently. We all want to win races too. Last year was the first year we hadn’t won any (as a team). So, it was kind of surprising and disappointing. Nothing like that kind of year to get you fired up. We’ve been working really hard. I think we’re going to have a great season.
Alexander: In Indy Car, it seems like win at all costs. In NASCAR, you don’t really have to win to have a successful day. You agree with that?
Patrick: I think it’s proportionate to the amount of cars probably, I think, is one thing. Just like in Indy Car, you have guys that run up front normally but to have a top-10 day in Indy Car or a top-six or eight day is like an okay day, it’s not great. In NASCAR, if you have a top-18 or 20 day, it’s not a great day but you finish. It’s proportionate, I think, to the car count a little bit. But it also depends on what team you drive for and what expectation levels are realistic. I don’t know. I don’t think so. We’re all drivers and we all want to do well.
Roberts: How closely have you looked at the success of Tony Stewart, former IRL champ, who comes over and we all know what he’s done in NASCAR, and Juan Pablo Montoya, but at the same time the lack of success of names like Jacques Villeneuve, Patrick Carpentier and Dario Franchitti. How closely have you looked at what they did?
Patrick: I definitely watched along the way and have been curious like many. I think that should never take away from the talent that they’ve showed in other places. They’ve all done very, very well from where they came from. So, I don’t really think much about it.
I try to look at the situation – what team are they driving for? What car? How much testing did they probably get? How long did they get to really perform? I think it was Rusty Wallace that said it takes three seasons to figure it out and I think that Juan (Montoya) had probably showed that. It just takes a while to get used to. It’s different. It’s still racing but everything is the same but everything is different. It’s still racing cars but everything’s a different feel. It just takes a while to get used to.
Alexander: The lingo is certainly different from an Indy car to a stock car, so how did you get acclimated to that during your test?
Patrick: I found that many things are opposite. When we talk about cross weight in an Indy car, we’re using the left front as where we’re talking about, so adding would be adding to the left front, whereas in NASCAR, you talk about adding cross weight and you talk about adding it to the right front. So, there’s lots of things that are backwards and different.
At the test in Orlando that we did, I was saying the car gets just a little bit loose, just a little bit sideways but you hang it out and just ride it out to the exit of the corner. Tony said, ‘That’s perfect, once you get it into that “yaw,”’ and I was like, ‘Ya’ll? Does he really say “ya’ll” for everything?’ And then I came in and I realized I was just really dumb and it was ‘yaw’ with a ‘w.’ So, apparently it’s a technical word that I didn’t know before. . .
Anyway I’m just making excuses for myself. But yeah, there’s lot of different lingo which I’m getting used to. Sometimes I feel like Tony is still speaking another language but I’m working hard to understand it. I need a dictionary for NASCAR.
Roberts: Are you chomping at the bit to get into competition at Daytona in a couple of weeks?
Patrick: Yes and no, I’m nervous. I want to perform well. I want to do well. I want to know I’m ready. I think I’ve talked about it quite a few times – just the little things – pit stops and when do you put it into gear on a pit stop. I haven’t even done many burnouts in the car yet. There’s a whole way you can kind of slip the clutch and get it rolling. So, just little things and getting up to speed on cold tires in the car and where’s that limit?
Once I’m at speed and running in traffic, I have a lot to learn there but I’m a little more comfortable because it’s more common racing situations and it’s just about feeling the car. I have a lot to learn but I’m excited to get going and hopefully it goes well. Toronto Star