On the list of historic moments Danica Patrick enjoyed last week at Daytona International Speedway, one will stand in her memory.
Only 13 drivers can say they have led laps in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, two of the world’s biggest races. Patrick made that list after leading five laps at Daytona, becoming the first woman to lead that event (and apparently the first woman to lead a green-flag lap in a Sprint Cup event).
The rare Indy-Daytona double will rank high in Patrick’s memory bank, she said.
“It is a statistic like that that personally I felt was the biggest one from the weekend,” she said Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. “To look at the list of names, and to fall under them – while I’m honored to be a first woman to do something, those are great. You can’t take those away. A first is always wonderful.
“But, to fall into a historical statistic that is small, that is a small group, along with other drivers, and have it not be about being a male or a female, that is something that I aspire to as a driver. I hope that when I am done racing that people remember me as a great driver. And, if they remember me as a great girl driver, that’s fine, too. … I feel like that is one of those statistics that’s just genderless, and that’s pretty neat for me.”
Eyeing Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500, the second race of the season, Patrick continues to stress reasonable expectations after her achievements at Daytona.
“Is qualifying on the pole and leading laps what we should be thinking based on last weekend?” she asked. “No. I need to keep realistic expectations, and I think everybody else does, too. Daytona is a very unique place, and this is kind of where the bulk of the season really starts. Things like being able to get up-to-speed quickly; knowing what I want in the car; how to push it to its limit and what its limit is are things that are going to begin to be tested now. That’s something that you don’t really face at Daytona.”
Patrick described last November’s PIR visit as “the best weekend I’d had in a Cup car. I really think that is what led me to want to do more double duty weekends this year. Haven’t been able to work that out yet. But, I think that driving both of the cars really just keeps you sharp.
“I feel like [when] I have practiced the Cup car, it helped in the Nationwide car. Then when I had done the Nationwide race, I really felt like it led to helping in the Cup race. I think that was probably also a big contributor to why last year at the end of the year it was a good weekend.”
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.