Change and Familiarity at Daytona
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Danica Patrick’s 2014 Budweiser Speedweeks at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway will be different than the 2013 version. But the driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) wants to at least experience some similarities.
Two changes stand out: Patrick’s participation in the non-points Sprint Unlimited on Feb. 15, and the move of the Budweiser Duel 150-mile qualifying races from its traditional Thursday afternoon slot to Thursday night under the lights (Feb. 20).
Patrick’s participation in the Sprint Unlimited comes via her historic pole position in last year’s Daytona 500, when she became the first woman to ever qualify in the top spot for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. All 17 drivers that won a Sprint Cup pole in 2013 are eligible, as are Terry Labonte, Ken Schrader and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart, all of whom are past winners of the event.
The exhibition race will give Patrick valuable track time in race conditions, which will help her prepare for the Budweiser Duel and the 56th Daytona 500. Her car for the Sprint Unlimited will be familiar, Chassis No. 10-758, which Patrick drove when she started on the pole and finished a career-best eighth in last year’s Daytona 500.
In addition to her history-making pole run and Daytona 500 finish, Patrick also led twice for five laps to become the first female to lead NASCAR’s most prestigious race and the first woman to lead a Sprint Cup race under green. Janet Guthrie previously led five laps under caution in 1977 at Ontario (Calif.) Motor Speedway.
Her car for qualifying, the Budweiser Duel and the Daytona 500 will be Chassis No. 10-835, a brand new GoDaddy Chevrolet built by Daytona Beach native Tony Gibson and his veteran crew. It has performed well in wind-tunnel tests and will make its on-track debut during the first Daytona 500 practice on Saturday, Feb. 15.
With an extra race and the format of Budweiser Speedweeks changing, Patrick, Gibson and the GoDaddy crew are prepared for a different experience at Daytona than the one they cultivated 12 months ago. But the same successful mindset they employed last year at Daytona is in place again this year, bolstering their chances for another strong showing on NASCAR’s biggest stage.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Overall thoughts on beginning your sophomore season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series?
“Our goal is ultimately, of course, to progress from where we were last year, but we really didn’t finish in the top-15 very much, and I think that’s something we thought we were going to be able to do based on just the 10 races I had done in 2012. Top-20 wasn’t really a problem, and having a great run at Phoenix for a 12th or 13th or whatever it was going to be with about a lap left and getting punted. It’s the goal again this year. You have to set one goal and then, once you achieve it, move on to the next one. It’s true, there is so much enthusiasm with the team and everybody around the shop and all the drivers and everybody. I really feel like this is a year where we might not make a small step in the right direction, but I feel like we’ll hopefully make a big jump in the right direction. Kevin (Harvick) is super excited, and Kurt (Busch) is, and I know Tony (Stewart) is itching to get back in the car. For me, I love being able to have those guys around to ask questions to, and they want to help me, and that feels good.”
You have two new teammates at SHR with Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch joining you and Tony. Do you get along with all of them?
“I get along with all of them very well. I mean, Tony and I go so far back. Gosh, I remember watching Kurt test in IndyCar at Sebring back when I was not even a Formula Atlantic driver, And, I suppose outside of the car, Kevin and I have actually spent a fair amount of time hanging out. We went and played golf last year, had dinner with him. So I feel like I know all of them pretty well. I mean, Kevin was definitely very helpful at the test, you know, just giving me little pointers as to what to do and things to think about out there, and he said that’s the case with every track. There are a couple of things with every track that he’ll be able to point out, and that’s a very valuable thing for me. That’s not something everyone has the opportunity to have. I don’t intend on wasting it, and if I haven’t seen him early on in a weekend, I will seek him out and get those little tidbits he said were going to be the case for every track. But I have a feeling everyone is going to be helpful. And I know it’s definitely not up to them to come to me. It’s about me going to them.”
Are you excited to participate in the Sprint Unlimited?
“Being able to do the Sprint Unlimited race is a great bonus for me. Helps us get warmed up for the year, helps us most importantly get warmed up for the Daytona 500, and just get more laps. There’s nothing like racing there. Even practice you don’t – there’s so much on the line that you have to be – you’ve got to be a little bit careful along the way. But when you’re in a race condition, you’re completely 100 percent. So it’ll be good to do that. I’m lucky and fortunate that I’m in it, and it was all because we qualified on the pole for the Daytona 500.”
What is your comfort level like compared to a year ago?
“I just feel like I know the car much better than I did at this point last year, have been to all the tracks now, have a general idea of a better way to go about the race weekend. That leads to better results, whether it be qualifying, practice or race, and just what it takes to get there. I think those are the things I learned from last year that make me feel more comfortable going into this year.”
What did you learn in your first full season of Sprint Cup racing?
“I would say I really just learned how much commitment it takes and how much attention to detail you need to be competitive. At the Cup level, it is ultra-competitive and people are pushing extremely hard, and you can feel like there’s nothing more you can do, but you have to keep digging deeper and you have to keep that pace up. It seems like we made some progress through the summer last year when we were pushing very hard after we had a struggling start, all of us as a team, and you see progress and then you kind of sit on that, and all of a sudden you get that progress seems to become invisible again. You have to have such an intense commitment to getting better every single day.”
How was your offseason?
“It was nice. The season ended and, the next day, Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) and his family and myself and my family, we all went on vacation together. That was probably one of the highlights of it. That was a lot of fun. We went down to the Caribbean for five days and got sunburned and had a good time. That was probably one of the most fun things we did. But I love the offseason for the holidays and I love spending time with family, and we did lots of that.”
TONY GIBSON, Crew chief of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Last year, short of winning, the GoDaddy team had about as perfect Budweiser Speedweeks as possible. How hard will it be to repeat that?
“The top priority is to have a smooth Budweiser Speedweeks. I’ve been there multiple times and it’d be a disaster. I’d rather it be a smooth, consistent Speedweeks – be competitive and be fast. If we’re able to get down there and have a shot to repeat and get the pole again, that’s great. Obviously there are no guarantees. We’re going down there with the attitude that we can do it. The mindset is to go down there and try to sit on the pole again. If we can’t sit on the pole, then we’ll do the best we can. We’re in the Sprint Unlimited, too, and that’s a wide-open race for everyone, so there’s no reason to hold back. You need to be aggressive and get what you can.”
What is your strategy for the Sprint Unlimited?
“The fans are going to dictate your strategy because they’re going to vote on how long each segment is going to be and when and how we pit, so it’s hard to go in there with any strategy. The fans are going to dictate what you do, so we’re going to have to play that by ear. We have all four Stewart-Haas cars in the Sprint Unlimited and three from Hendrick Motorsports, so we have a decent amount of support this year. It should be pretty exciting.”
With the Budweiser Duels now at night, does that change your strategy?
“The only thing that may change is a little bit of aerodynamic changes. The track will probably be a little bit more free at night. So maybe just a little bit of a handling deal that we may have to go through that we normally wouldn’t go through during the day. It’s not going to change too much, though.”
You and your team have so much experience with the two weeks at Daytona. How important is experience given how grueling the days can be?
“It’s a stressful time. Especially when you have a two activities in the same three or four days. With qualifying going on and Sprint Unlimited practice and the race, there’s a lot of stuff going on. That first week is really tough to keep everyone focused and not make mistakes and keep everybody calm and make it a smooth weekend. I think where the experience comes in is when you do have problems and you do have setbacks during that first few days. Having a crew that’s experienced and been through that, they know how to rebound from it and they know how to react to adversity. The experience my guys have – they’ve been through about everything you can go through.”
What are the goals for the GoDaddy team in 2014?
“I think the biggest thing I want to accomplish is to be a more competitive top-20 racecar. Be able to run in the top-20 more frequently and get better in our qualifying. I know qualifying is going to be a different procedure this year, so I don’t know that you’ll be able to compare last year to this year – we’ll have to wait and see. Our goal is to try and qualify further up in the field, which helps our race program. Qualify better and race in the top-20, that’s our goal.”
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