Tony Gibson seems very calm, as if he’s not about to jump into one of the biggest road shows of his racing career.
But, undeniably, he is.
Gibson will be the man in the middle as Danica Patrick launches her first full-season run in the Sprint Cup Series this year. As crew chief for one of international motorsports’ most visible individuals, Gibson will be calling the shots in a season that is likely to be equal parts sideshow and learning experience.
The key, Gibson said Monday, is for Patrick and the team to operate within the world they can control.
“There is a lot of spotlight on us, but I’ve been there before,” he said. “You have to handle it. Just be steady. Be yourself. Don’t do anything that puts you in a bad position. Keep her level-headed.
“She has nothing to prove to me. Let’s go out and learn together. Whatever’s going on around us, we can’t control that.”
Patrick finished 10th in Nationwide Series points last season and isn’t expected to suddenly become a contender in Sprint Cup. But Gibson said he’s convinced she’s in NASCAR to succeed, not simply to ride along with the attention that automatically follows her.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve seen is her desire and want-to,” he said. “You’re never really sure about a person. Is this really what you want to do? What are you doing this for? You always have that question.
“The first 30 minutes we sat down and talked last year, I knew she had the desire and want-to. This is what she wants to do. She doesn’t want to play basketball. She doesn’t want to swim. She wants to race. She’s been doing it since she was little.
“That desire sparked on me. She’s in it to win it.”
The trick, Gibson said, will be to keep Patrick from trying to over-perform too soon.
“She’s kind of like my wife,” he said. “She gets fired up from time to time. You have to handle her with delicate hands. I’m working on that now to try to make sure I say and do the right things. She can dish it out and she can take it. That part of it – I like that.
“We’re trying to build a top 20, top 15, top 10 team. We have time. We don’t have to go out and set the world on fire. We know that. I just have to keep her from wanting to do too much too fast. I think if I can do that, she’ll be fine.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.