KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – In a race during which much is out of the drivers’ control, and working the draft to utilize their fellow competitors to maneuver to the front is key, it’s common for drivers to wonder who’s got their back leading into the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
As Danica Patrick enters her third full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with the 57th running of the Daytona 500, she has her sights set on winning her first Sprint Cup race. Patrick knows that the Stewart-Haas Racing organization and her No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS team have got her back as they look to make a run at the Harley J. Earl Trophy. But having the support of her team is only one piece of the puzzle.
Drafting partners come and go in superspeedway races, and it’s not unusual for a driver to go from the front of the field to the back of the pack very quickly, as Patrick learned early in her Sprint Cup career.
In 2013, with a solid restart and drafting help from Clint Bowyer, Patrick rocketed to the front of the field and became the first woman to lead the Daytona 500. At the end of the race, Patrick found herself poised for a top-three finish until a group of cars lined up in the inside lane and powered by on the final lap, leaving Patrick out of the draft. She dropped to eighth before taking the checkered flag.
Determining who’s got your back at Daytona can be difficult, and drivers often get left hanging, much like Patrick did in 2013.
While it may be a struggle to find drafting help at Daytona, small business owners don’t have to wonder who’s there to support them. Patrick’s longtime sponsor GoDaddy is honoring and assisting small business owners with the “GoDaddy’s Got Your Back” contest. Now through the end of the month, people can go to GoDaddy.com/GotYourBack to submit and vote for their favorite small business websites. The top-10 vote-getters will receive a GoDaddy website tuneup, two years of services and expert consultation. In addition, one lucky small business will get Patrick as its own employee for a day.
As GoDaddy strives to help small businesses thrive online, Patrick and her Daniel Knost-led team will kick off the year with the Sprint Unlimited, the non-points race that precedes the official season opener. She will pilot the No. 10 GoDaddy/TaxACT Chevrolet SS in the event and, while winning is the ultimate goal, the 75-lap exhibition race might provide Patrick with the perfect opportunity to find out who’s got her back for the “Great American Race.”
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Stewart-Haas Racing has accomplished a lot, especially this past year. What are your expectations coming into this season?
“Really, to continue with the things that were happening last year and the improvements made in the areas that I was looking to improve them, and also to develop new relationships, obviously. With a new crew chief and a new group, we need to get to know each other sooner than later, so I’ll be putting a lot of hard work into getting our communication going as quickly as possible. But then, after that, it’s to kind of pick up where I left off with Tony Gibson and his guys who taught me so much and really helped me get much further toward the front and qualifying much better and running much better. I’m sure there will be a little bit of a learning curve, but I think we can overcome that sooner than later.”
Given your success at Daytona in 2013, is this the race you look forward to the most? What are your expectations?
“It’s sure one of them, but I think it also has to do with the fact that it’s the biggest race of the year. Anything can happen at Daytona, so it makes it an exciting race, but it also can be frustrating, too, and I think that’s why it’s probably exciting for every driver to go to Daytona on some level because, I guess, I equate it to almost like the Indy 500. It’s so long that there are a lot of cycles that could have put you in the right place to win the race. And I feel like Daytona is one of those races that, given the right flow through the pack, you could be the one up front to win the race. I’m sure there are a lot of people who get excited about going there but also get a little bit, I don’t know, uncomfortable. I doubt people are scared, but you could equally fail and not have a great race. You could be running great and finish 20th. That’s just what happens at Daytona.”
Is it tough having a new crew chief? How long does it normally take for you to develop the relationship?
“It is a challenge. I think the hard thing is that, in Cup, the littlest things make the biggest difference. So you’re really working in a tiny little window. To get there is challenging. I think I underestimated how long it would take to get to know a crew chief, get on the same page. I wouldn’t be surprised if it took a year, but I hope it doesn’t. I hope the things I’ve learned over the last couple of years will help that move faster because I’ll be able to put focus on the areas I know help develop the relationship and also improve the car to put it in a good place to run well.”
Is this where you expected to be after two or three seasons at the Sprint Cup level?
“I’ve said all along that it’s about progress, and it still is. As long as you keep progressing, you’re going to get to the top in a matter of time. There have been improvements in the areas I wanted them, and now it’s about making those improvements much more consistent.”
What’s the next step with your improvement? Is it realistic you will win a race this year?
“I think there were slight possibilities of winning races last year, we just didn’t. I think this year it’s going to take a little bit of time to pick up where everything left off with Tony Gibson. I think that’s going to take some time, especially given the last three races we weren’t quite there. But there was improvement within those three races, so that’s a positive, in such a short amount of time. I feel we got to the point where top-15 really was where our speed was, and we ran there much more frequently. It’s time to make that very consistent. I feel like what’s funny, once you get up into the top-15, the top-10 is not that much different. But I guess the progression would be to work into the top-10. I think that top-15 is the biggest one to crack. I feel like we did a good job at doing that much more often last year.”
What would define this season as a successful year?
“That is a question I don’t ever have an answer to. It’s about progress for me, improving from where we were last year. With a new crew chief, I think that’s going to take a little bit of time to get to know each other, get the cars where I want them for comfort, where they need to be. But I think that progress is what’s important. We definitely ran much more often in the top-15 last year and, speed‑wise, we were definitely there, I felt like, a lot of the time. It’s about making that much more consistent and making top-15 finishes much more regular. I think those are some things that will be continuations of where things left off last year that I’ll be looking to happen by the end of the year. Again, I said it will take a little bit of time with the new crew chief. If we can get there by the end of the year, it will make me that much more excited about the end of the season.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine