KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway is one of the few tracks on the NASCAR schedule where Danica Patrick has a lot of experience.
Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has made nine starts at Sonoma dating back to 2005.
Seven of those, however, came in the IndyCar Series and unfortunately won’t offer much assistance to Patrick as she competes in Sunday’s Save Mart 350k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.
In two Sprint Cup visits to Sonoma, she earned an 18th-place finish last year and a 29th-place result in June 2013.
The IndyCar Series utilized two different Sonoma road-course layouts during the seven years Patrick competed there, and neither is identical to the 1.99-mile, 10-turn configuration she will drive Sunday.
Patrick is hoping her Sprint Cup road-course racing this weekend goes better than her three road-course appearances in Xfinity Series competition in 2012. All three were memorable, if not downright strange.
In the June 2012 Xfinity event at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Patrick was fourth on the final lap when she was bumped into a gravel trap by Jacques Villeneueve, which led her to finish 12th. Two months later, Patrick finished 43rd at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International after Ryan Truex spun in front of her on the start. She could not avoid his spinning car and made heavy contact with his machine.
But the strangest Xfinity road-course experience of all came one week later after Patrick had led 20 laps and was on the point at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal when a fan threw a shoe onto the track on lap 38 of 81. She couldn’t avoid running over it and, shortly thereafter – whether the shoe caused the problem or not – Patrick was forced to pit for mechanical repairs and finished 27th.
At Sonoma this weekend, Patrick is hoping to run a smooth and clean race, avoid any shoes on course, and build upon a solid 16th-place finish she and the GoDaddy team scored two weeks ago at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What is the key to racing at Sonoma?
“I think, at Sonoma, you have to get through the high-speed esses comfortably, which leads to a good high-speed balance. Power down is also important there because it is easy for the rear tires to just spin all the time. The fast lap times come from the high-speed balance, so that is the key for me and the GoDaddy team.”
What is the hardest part about road racing?
“The hardest part of road racing is just putting a whole lap together. The hardest part of road racing is just nailing every corner and doing it consistently when it counts.”
Daniel Knost, Crew chief of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What kind of challenges do the road-course events present?
“These cars were not really designed to be put through the turns like we face at road courses. I’ve heard a lot drivers say that Watkins Glen is like Michigan with very high speeds. On the other hand, Sonoma is more like Martinsville with very low speeds and tight corners. The key at Sonoma is getting forward drive off the corners.”
What do you do that’s different on the racecars for the road courses?
“Setup-wise, actually you turn right more than you turn left at Sonoma, which is unusual. The cars are usually set up just to turn left, so they are a lot more even. The other big factor is how much you shift gears at road courses. You’re not normally shifting at most of the tracks we go to, so that really adds in a different element as you to consider where you want to shift and when you need to shift. That’s a big, big challenge at the road-course events.”
Years ago, transmissions used to be a huge factor at road-course races. How has the technology advanced in recent years?
“It’s really come a long way. The transmissions are really durable. We do a lot of work to get them to shift well. The transmissions are a really good package right now.”
Danica’s racing resume is filled with a long history of road-course racing. How do you approach the weekend knowing that?
“Absolutely – I’d say this is kind of her comfort zone. She did a lot of road racing before she did a lot of circle-track racing, so we view it as an opportunity to go out and have a really good weekend.”
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