KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – After surviving a weekend at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway where temperatures soared above 90 degrees Fahrenheit each day, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams move on to Kentucky Speedway in Sparta for Saturday night’s Kentucky 400, where forecasts once again call for temperatures to again reach into the 90s. The hot days of summer are officially here.
While the heat can be a challenge, Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, finds that her intense workout regimen, along with staying hydrated, help prepare her for the extreme temperatures the drivers face in their racecars during this summer stretch.
In addition to the challenges the intense heat presents, when teams arrive at Kentucky Speedway this weekend, they will be faced with even more challenges in the form of the new racing surface and slightly reconfigured track. Since last summer’s race at the 1.5-mile oval, the track has been repaved and it has undergone a change in turns one and two, where the banking was increased from 14 to 17 degrees. In addition, the width of the pit road exit lane has increased and, as a result, the racing surface in those turns is now nearly 20 feet narrower.
So while Patrick has plenty of experience at Kentucky, as she’s competed in a total of 12 events there – three Sprint Cup races, two NASCAR Xfinity Series events and seven IndyCar Series races – she’ll have to throw most of that experience out the window as she faces a virtually new track this weekend.
Patrick’s highest Sprint Cup finish at Kentucky was a 21st-place effort in June 2014. Patrick’s best Xfinity Series result was a 12th-place finish she earned in June 2012. In seven IndyCar races at Kentucky Speedway, she qualified on the pole in 2005, led a total of three laps and earned four top-10 finishes.
Last year, Patrick started 23rd at Kentucky and late-race contact relegated her to a 34th-place result.
As she returns to Kentucky this weekend, Patrick is ready to endure the hot summer days and the challenges the changes at the track present to the race teams in an effort to score a solid finish in Saturday night’s Kentucky 400.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your overall thoughts on Kentucky?
“It’s one of those tracks where I have experience but, obviously, not a lot of it in a stock car. I’ve been there a lot, but I’ve only run a handful of stock-car races there. I ran a lot of IndyCar races at Kentucky but, obviously, those aren’t really going to benefit me this weekend. In the past, the track has had a lot of character to it with the bumps. However, with the repave, preparing for the new track surface, combined with this year’s new aero package, presents a whole new set of challenges.”
Talk about how your workout regimen helps you in the racecar.
“Fitness is something that’s always been important to me. It’s been important since I raced go-karts and moved up to the senior division of the fastest category. I was 14 years old and I started lifting weights, going to the gym and working on the machines because I didn’t know how to use the free weights, running on the treadmill and things like that. I’ve been working out since then and it’s something that I really enjoy. A lot of it is because I needed to and that’s how I got started, but I do really enjoy it. I enjoy the physical challenges, as well as the mental aspect of it. A lot of the things that I do, especially when it comes to CrossFit and doing things as fast as you can and lifting as much weight as you can, or if I’m doing yoga and having to hold a pose for longer or experiencing the contrast between letting go and pushing through something, they’re all things that are just good for the mind. Also, learning how to breathe through all of it has been helpful. In yoga, you really should move with your breath and I’ve tried to incorporate that into CrossFit a bit more. It’s a challenge, but there are ways to talk your heart rate down. I find all of that helpful when I’m in the car.”
We’re in the part of the Sprint Cup schedule where you have to deal with the extreme summer heat. How much does your workout regimen help you keep from getting fatigued in the hot conditions?
“My workout regimen is mostly for me, but it definitely doesn’t hurt inside the car and, to a certain extent, it definitely helps. There’s a certain point where, if you’re unfit, you can get tired or exhausted in the car. Some of the exercising I do is needed, but do I need to work out every day or twice a day to do my job? No, but I enjoy doing it. Our job is a lot of repetition but, more than anything, it’s endurance. So, when I’m inside the car, all of the working out that I do definitely helps me.”
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