KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend has long been a special day for racing enthusiasts around the world. Considered by many as the “Greatest Day in Motorsports,” it starts with the Grand Prix of Monaco, where Formula 1 drivers navigate through the streets of Monte Carlo. That’s followed by the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the day closes with the Coca-Cola 600, the longest race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
Racing on Memorial Day weekend is nothing new for Danica Patrick as she’s done it at the professional level for many years. For seven years, Patrick competed in the 500-mile race at Indianapolis, but since making the move to Sprint Cup racing, the car, location, track length and distance are a bit different than what she had grown accustomed to during her IndyCar Series days.
In those seven years Patrick competed in the Indianapolis 500, nowhere did she perform better than in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” She burst onto the scene at Indy in May 2005, when she stunned the world by leading three times for 19 laps and finishing fourth in her first “500” – becoming the first woman to lead laps and score a top-five finish in the iconic race.
She set numerous records during her Indy 500 debut and set the tone early when she posted the fastest lap on the opening day of practice. She went on to set the fastest practice lap five times throughout the month – more than any other driver – including Pole Day and Carburetion Day.
Patrick’s practice lap of 229.880 mph on Pole Day was the fastest of any driver during the month. During her qualification attempt, Patrick made an impressive save as her car bobbled in turn one on her first lap, earning her rave reviews for her car control by longtime Indy 500 observers. She ended up qualifying fourth, the best-ever starting position for a woman in the race.
On race day, with 11 laps remaining in the 200-lap event, Patrick blew past leader Dan Wheldon and held the point until lap 194, when she was forced to slow down in order to conserve fuel to make it to the finish. Her efforts earned her Rookie of the Year honors.
Patrick scored six top-10 finishes in seven starts at Indianapolis and qualified 10th or better five times. Her third-place result in 2009 is the best finish ever for a woman in the history of the Indianapolis 500.
For the fourth consecutive year, however, Memorial Day weekend will be different for Patrick, as she’ll watch the start of the Indy 500 on television from her motorhome in the Charlotte Motor Speedway infield as she prepares to race in the Coca-Cola 600.
The driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will compete in a race that is 100 miles longer than the Indianapolis 500, starts six hours later than the “500,” and takes place on a 1.5-mile high-banked oval rather than a 2.5-mile nearly flat rectangle.
Patrick’s career-best finish in the Coca-Cola 600 was a 24th-place result she earned in 2013, but she is ready to improve upon that effort this weekend and find success at Charlotte similar to what she experienced so many times on the “Greatest Day in Motorsports” in Indy.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your overall thoughts about racing at Charlotte?
“I like Charlotte. It’s really nice for the crews because it’s a home race for them. They get to sleep in their own bed and a lot of their family and friends are there. So you want to give them a good performance. It’s fun for me at Charlotte because a lot of the crews have young kids, so it’s fun to meet them and see them around the hauler during the race weekend. It’s just a bit of a different experience than a lot of the tracks we go to.”
Looking at Memorial Day, what’s that day like for you as you prepare for the Coca-Cola 600?
“For race day, I like to carve out as much time as I can to watch the Indy 500. It’s an amazing event. I can still put myself there and feel it when I watch the race. I like to watch and see how the drivers I know are doing. It’s a great race. Last year was a great race and I’m sure this year will be, too. It’s just part of tradition. I do have to do meet-and-greets and stuff like that on race day, but I usually try to schedule them early or for the middle of the race so I can watch the end, for sure.”
How challenging is the Coca-Cola 600?
“A lot is made about the Coca-Cola 600 being another 100 miles longer and it being a long race. We have a lot of races that are already 500 miles long and we have a lot of races that go from day to night, so it’s really not unfamiliar territory. It can make a bad day worse if the race is even longer. If the car is good, then the day is easy. It never feels all that long and, hopefully, it’s not super-hot out. Other than that, it’s just another race, honestly. But, it is a big event that you want to do well at.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine