KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500, Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will be looking to revitalize their performance at the .526-mile oval.
In March 2015, Patrick etched her name in the record books there by earning a seventh-place finish in the STP 500. The effort marked her first top-10 of the season and the fifth top-10 of her Sprint Cup career. It also tied Patrick with Janet Guthrie for the most top-10 Sprint Cup finishes by a female driver. A few weeks later, Patrick earned another top-10 result at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and was able to take sole ownership of that record.
For Patrick, it wasn’t the first time she’d made history at Martinsville. In April 2013, she became the first female driver to compete in a Sprint Cup race at the track, which first opened in 1949.
In her first start at the short track, Patrick surprised many NASCAR observers with a solid 12th-place result – made more impressive by the fact she started 43rd after an engine change before the race. She looked like a veteran on the shortest track on the circuit which, when viewed from the air, looks like a paperclip as its long straightaways lead into tight, flat turns.
Her impressive rookie performance bested those of other name drivers in their Martinsville debuts, most notably her team owner Tony Stewart, who finished 20th in his first Martinsville start in 1999. Six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson finished 35th in his Martinsville debut in 2002. NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace finished 15th in 1984. Dale Jarrett finished 14th in 1984. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 26th in 2000. Kyle Busch finished 39th in 2005. Matt Kenseth finished 21st in 2000. And her SHR teammate Kurt Busch finished 37th in 2000.
All-told, in seven Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville, Patrick has earned one top-10 finish and four top-20s. In April, she started 28th, ran as high as seventh and finished 16th after battling handling issues.
As Sprint Cup teams return to Martinsville for Sunday’s race, Patrick and her No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS team look to rekindle their success at the iconic short track and bring home their first top-10 result of the season.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What was your first impression of Martinsville Speedway?
“I remember my first year in the Cup Series I did 10 races and Tony (Stewart) decided that he wanted to put the 10 hardest races on my schedule in preparation for the next year, which was my first full season in 2013. He forgot to put Martinsville on that 10-race schedule and I remember going there the next year and he was, like, ‘Oh shoot, I forgot to put this one on your schedule.’ He was mad that he forgot to put Martinsville on the schedule, and I’m not going to lie, I sucked in practice my first time there. But once we got into the race and I learned a couple of things, all of a sudden it took off and I think we ended up 11th or 12th that day. I remember feeling like I’d all but won the race, basically. Ever since then, I’ve looked forward to coming back. I’ve only had one or two bad races at Martinsville. It can happen and I definitely now know the feeling between a good and a bad race at Martinsville. In a good race, you look out the windshield and, in a bad race, you look out the rearview mirror because you’re pretty much either going forward or backward, you’re not usually standing still very long there. Hopefully, it’s a look forward kind of race on Sunday.”
What is the key to success at Martinsville?
“I came from a road-course-racing background and, at Martinsville, I feel like you have to set up passes a little bit like that. I think it’s also a track where you have to exercise a lot of discipline. It’s easy to make mistakes. It’s easy to overdrive and try and get a little bit more when you’re passing somebody and make mistakes. Those are the two things I keep in mind when I’m there.”
What do you like about racing at Martinsville?
“At Martinsville, I enjoy that, if you have a good car, you can pass. I always say that Martinsville is one of those tracks that you’re either looking out your windshield or you’re looking in your rearview mirror. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of in-between there, at least for me. Luckily, I’ve had more weekends where I was looking out the windshield.”
What’s the toughest thing to figure out about Martinsville?
“At Martinsville, like any short track, you want to make sure you turn the center, but you have to have drive on exit. They go hand-in-hand, too. If you can’t turn the center, it doesn’t matter what kind of power-down you have. If you have all that wheel in it when you’re trying to get off the corner and put the power down, it puts a lot of load on those back tires to try and get you off the corner because you’re using the power to try and turn. It’s about achieving a good balance with the car and I feel like our team has really always done a pretty good job with that. I’ve only had one Martinsville that was bad and the rest of them were all pretty decent.”
We’re closing in on the end of the season. How has this first year gone with your crew chief Billy Scott?
“We’re going through these last few races of the year and using them as a big learning experience for us to know which direction we want to go in for next year. Things have been going better lately and I think the big contributing factor is just time and working with each other long enough that we’re honing in on what we need and are getting more comfortable with each other.”
The Cubs are playing in the World Series for the first time since 1945. How did you become a Cubs fan?
"I grew up in Illinois and have a place in Chicago. Anyone who knows a Chicagoan knows we have a lot of pride and excitement for our home teams."
What is your favorite memory of the Cubs?
“I've thrown out the first pitch twice over the years. I stood on top of the mound both times, not in front of it and I basically had the same exact pitch each time. It like one-hopped right in front of home plate and into the catcher's mitt. They weren't perfect, but I was on top of the mound and they were straight and there was no running for the ball. So, I consider that a mild success. I think that my seventh-inning stretch song probably made like a ‘Not Top-10’ list on SportsCenter for a keep your day job kind of thing, which I don't care because I am not a singer. But I am an athlete, so I think the pitch has to go well, so I could have cared less that they didn't think I sang well.”
What would it mean to you to see the Cubs win the World Series?
"I have to say it would be pretty incredible to see the Cubs win the World Series.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine