Prepare for Danica, Round Two.
She seems to be prepared.
After a remarkable Daytona Speedweeks in which she make a string of news – not to mention some notable history – with a pole win, laps led in NASCAR’s biggest race and a late-race shot at what would have been a victory heard around the world, Danica Patrick appears ready to keep the ball rolling as the circuit moves to Phoenix International Raceway this weekend.
“Obviously, coming off Daytona, we’ve got a lot of confidence,” Patrick said. “Tony Gibson (crew chief) and the Go Daddy crew are excited, and I am, too. To have two good weeks in Daytona really helps set the tone for the early part of the year.
“We ran well at Phoenix last year until we got taken out at the end, so we want to improve on that. It’s just about getting better every week. Obviously, it’s a big race because Go Daddy headquarters are in Scottsdale, not far from the track, and we know there will be a lot of people in Go Daddy green at the track supporting us. We want to give them something to cheer for.”
Patrick led five laps in the Daytona 500, becoming the first woman to lead a lap in the Great American Race (and apparently also the first woman to lead a Cup race under green-flag conditions). She ran in the lead pack much of the day and positioned herself for a shot at the win, running third on the white-flag lap before dropping back to eighth in a last-lap shuffle.
Now, after a blitz of publicity at Daytona, Patrick settles in for the long 36-race grind along with everyone else on the tour. Much of the year will be new for her, but the surroundings this week are not. She has a home in Phoenix and spends much of her free time there, and she ran in last November’s Cup race at PIR, finishing 17th.
“It was nice to run like we did at the end of the year last year with Texas and especially with Phoenix,” she said. “I feel like it will give us a good baseline idea of how we need to set the car up. But it also is a new car, so we’ll have to adapt to that. Tony and I are still figuring out how we get the most out of me with new tires in a qualifying situation, things like that.
“We still have a lot of stuff to work on. But it was nice to have that race in Phoenix at the end of last year. While it might not be so much about Phoenix, I think it’s about Tony Gibson and everybody who works around him.”
After a Daytona performance that surprised some, Patrick said she doesn’t expect quantum leaps forward.
“I think that would be unwise to sort of start telling myself that top-10 is where we need to be every week,” she said. “I think that’s setting up failure. The list of drivers in the Cup series is deep. Daytona is a unique track. These tracks are different and unique.
“I mean, you have to be smart enough to do the right thing at the right time, but it’s very much about the car (at Daytona). I feel like I’m still sticking to, ‘Let’s see how these first five races go where we go to a bunch of different kinds of tracks, see where we settle in.’ Then start to establish goals from there on out.
“The only thing we can go off of is at the end of last year and running solid inside that top-20, hopefully get inside that top-15. That’s really all I can think, right now. That’s all I can think. It might change after five races. It might be better. Who knows? It might be worse. We’re going to kind of pick up where we left off.”
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.