All Eyes on the Prize at Talladega
KANNAPOLIS, N.C.– This is a race Danica Patrick has circled on her calendar.
While many drivers are not fond of the extremely tight packs of cars that dominate the racing action at restrictor-plate tracks like Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Patrick freely admits she enjoys this style of racing.
And why shouldn’t she? It’s the kind of racing where she has enjoyed her most success in her brief NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career.
In her first-ever Daytona 500 start in February 2013, she won the pole position to become the first woman ever to claim the top spot for a Sprint Cup race. She stayed out of trouble for the remainder of Speedweeks and ran in the top-three for much of the Daytona 500 before dropping from third to eighth on the final lap.
She rewrote some of the NASCAR record book en route to her eighth-place finish that day, which is the highest finishing position ever by a woman in the “Great American Race.”
In addition to her history-making pole run and finish in the Daytona 500, Patrick also led five laps – 90 to 91 and 127 to 129 – to become the first female to lead NASCAR’s most prestigious race and the first woman to lead Sprint Cup laps under green. Janet Guthrie led five laps under caution in 1977 at Ontario (Calif.) Motor Speedway.
By leading laps in the Daytona 500, Patrick joined an elite club of only 14 drivers to have led both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. The other drivers to accomplish the feat are A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Bobby Allison, Jim Hurtubise, Johnny Rutherford, Tim Richmond, John Andretti, Robby Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, A.J. Allmendinger and Tony Stewart. Of those 13 drivers, only Patrick, Foyt, Andretti, Gordon, Montoya and Stewart have led at least five laps in each race.
Patrick’s eighth-place finish in the Daytona 500, coupled with her six top-10 finishes in the Indianapolis 500, make her one of only 16 drivers to have top-10 results in each race. The other drivers are Foyt, Montoya, Gordon, Rutherford, Stewart, Andretti, Unser, Allmendinger, Bobby Johns, Cale Yarborough, Dan Gurney, Donnie Allison, Jerry Grant, Paul Goldsmith and Tom Sneva.
This weekend, Patrick’s No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) will once again be Chassis No. 10-758, the same car she used for her history-making run in last year’s Daytona 500. It’s also the same car she used in both Talladega races last season and in this year’s Sprint Unlimited non-points race at Daytona, where she finished 16th after getting caught up in a multicar accident.
She hasn’t had the same results in her two Sprint Cup starts at Talladega – finishing 33rd in both thanks to a multicar crash in the spring race and an untimely pit miscue in the fall race after running in the top-10 all day. But it still should come as no surprise that Patrick is looking forward to Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega, the second points-paying restrictor-plate race of the season.
Patrick’s No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet is sporting a different look for Talladega this year. You’ll see the GoDaddy “Peeker” logo, which is usually on the side of the bright green car, adorning the hood this weekend.
With a proven car beneath her and a style of racing that she loves, Patrick and the No. 10 team will have all eyes on the prize at Talladega this weekend as they hope to rewrite the history books once again.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’ve run well at the superspeedways. Even if you have been caught up in incidents, you have been consistently in the top-10 throughout each race. Is your confidence level higher at these types of racetracks?
“I don’t know if the confidence level shifts a tremendous amount as much as the comfort level does. Just being comfortable on these big speedways and comfortable with this pack-style racing that I was so used to in IndyCar on the ovals. Just having a feel for it. It is something that I probably caught on to quicker than anything in stock car racing. I guess I show up there and it’s just a little bit more comfortable.”
You finished eighth at Daytona last year and you had solid runs at Talladega last year although the finishes may not necessarily reflect the overall performance. Do you feel you can win Talladega this weekend?
“I feel like I’ve learned some lessons about the draft and how that unfolds at the end if you are in the right place at the right time. I think that, when we talk superspeedway racing, there’s a lot of luck involved. Like I said, right place at the right time – there are a lot of people who have a good chance of winning Talladega, I think. Hopefully, we are one of them at the end of the race. But, we won’t know that until the end of the race.”
You’ve always liked going to Talladega. Why is that?
“The fans really make that place. The campgrounds – all that stuff makes it one, big party. You see how much fun the fans are having and that makes it fun for us as drivers. It’s just a unique place. The sheer size of the facility is amazing. I liked it from the first time I went there and, hopefully, we can have a good run and a good finish. The cool thing about superspeedways is that anybody can win. It’s a toss-up, what’s going to happen. So, that’s why it’s fun for me because somebody like me has a chance. On top of that, SHR’s superspeedway cars are really good.”
TONY GIBSON, Crew chief of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
This will be the first restrictor-plate knockout qualifying round. What do you expect to see Saturday in qualifying and how do you prepare for that?
“I don’t know if you can prepare for that. We’ve kind of experienced a little bit of it when you are in practice before qualifying, when you are trying to run a fast lap in case it rains. We did it at Talladega last time and it was pretty crazy and scary. It’s not a good situation to be in for any of the drivers, and that’s just my opinion. I don’t know that we’re going to approach it as jumping in a big pack of cars to try to get to the back and get timing right because everybody else is going to be doing the same thing. We’re leaning more toward getting a group of us together and getting in a straight line and running as fast as we can and then park it. I hate to look at it that way, but I don’t want to tear my racecar up, either, because you can put yourself behind pretty quick. I’m not a big fan of the knockout qualifying at restrictor-plate races. I think it’s dangerous. Danica does have experience with it. She did it for the Nationwide race at Daytona and it worked out well for them. They got four cars together and it worked out, but there’s just as good of a chance of it not working out for you. I’m interested in seeing what all these other organizations do, whether they run in a pack or get their group of guys together and run and take what they can get. There are always going to be some of these guys who don’t have teammates to lean on. They’re going to try to be the ones who get in the back of these packs and suck up and draft up quick to get a lap. I think your polesitter could be a surprise. It’s going to be hectic and crazy and we’re just going to do our best to stay clean and stay out of trouble.”
Danica has been comfortable with restrictor-plate racing from the start. What are your overall thoughts going to Talladega?
“I think our best shot of winning a race is going to be a restrictor-plate race. She runs well there and, obviously, now we have more teammates at Stewart-Haas who are really good restrictor-plate racers who could help in a situation and be a good drafting partner. Our odds are up, now, because we have more teammates to draft with. If we get separated, there are three other teammates and we could pick up one or two of those and get back to the front. It helps all of us. I feel if we can get at least two or three of our Stewart-Haas cars in the top-10 coming to the final couple of laps, we’ve got a shot of winning the race because we have teammates. I feel like our odds are pretty good going into Talladega.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine