Hoping to Enjoy the Marathon Coca-Cola 600
KANNAPOLIS, N.C.– From 2005 to 2011, Danica Patrick looked forward to the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race on Memorial Day weekend.
She led 19 laps and finished fourth in 2005 and scored five other top-10 finishes, including a career-best third in 2009.
And with the race averaging about three to three-and-a-half hours, she was usually done with everything by 5 p.m. as the race starts at noon.
Now, 5 p.m. is about when her day really gets started as she prepares for Sunday’s marathon Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
The race begins at 6 p.m. and can last up to four or five hours, depending on the cautions brought out in NASCAR’s longest race.
But while the race lasts a long time, Patrick and her No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing appear to be ready to go.
Two weeks ago, Patrick enjoyed a career-best seventh-place finish at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. She drove in the top-10 for the entire race and had arguably the best performance of her Sprint Cup career.
She’s driven well before, with a 12th-place run last spring at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and an eighth-place run from the pole in the 2013 Daytona 500. But never on an intermediate track has she run so smoothly, and she definitely raised the eyebrows of more than a few observers.
Patrick drove a brand new car at Kansas and will drive another brand new one this week. And she’s hoping that car will bring even more success to the GoDaddy team.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How do you prepare for the longest race of the year?
“Oh, what’s another 100 miles on top of 500? It really doesn’t seem that long. I did it the last two years, right? Last year seemed pretty quick. Mind you, I did get crashed. A lot of it has to do with how you’re doing and how the car is, what’s happening on track, are you actually racing people throughout the race? I always felt like Darlington was the longest race in the whole world. It felt like 800 miles to me. But, for some reason, this year it went quickly. So, actually, I just think it has to do with how your race is going. Another 100 miles, if you’re running well, is going to help. If not, then it’s not. Other than that, it’s just another long race and we have a lot of them.”
How does your performance at Kansas give you confidence for other races?
“We’re just doing our best as a team to take the positive from Kansas. Sure, emotionally, but really setup-wise and things like that, we think will translate and carry those on. I think the good part about doing well is it gives some confidence, but it also helps show what stuff works out there. Your car has to be right. You have to qualify well. You have to run strong. You have to make good calls. It all has to get put together. The car is just one part of it.”
Does it give you confidence?
“Honestly, I really believe I can do that. I don’t think I would be where I am today without the confidence that I have. At this point in time, after where I’ve been and where I’ve run, it was a little bit of a surprise. But I guess if things had been going well, progressively, from the beginning, these are the kind of races that I would have hoped to have every now and again starting now. But, obviously it hasn’t been nearly that good, yet. But that’s really an example of putting a whole weekend together, everything from getting help from my teammates to qualifying well, making good race calls, making good decisions on the car before the race, using our teammates and all the information we have to do that, and building a really great new car. You have to have everything together to be able to run up front in the Cup Series. It’s just so hard. So, I’m very proud of everyone for putting it all together and doing a great job.”
What worked at Kansas? The track? The car?
“It’s something that happens two-fold. I think when the car is good, you can be more daring because it’s not going to step out on you and you trust it and you know what it’s going to do. When things aren’t as good on track and the car doesn’t feel as good, then it’s a lot harder to be more brave because there is a higher likelihood that it’s not going to end well. So, for me, the big difference was that it was really good on restarts. It was really stuck in traffic. And it was really good in the long run. I never noticed a lack of grip at any point. For me, that was what I noticed that weekend above any other weekend – the consistency of it. That’s what allowed me to be able to have great restarts, or definitely not really lose a lot, which has been qualifying, I would say. And restarts are a place where it comes up that I need to work on it and it’s true. Yes, that is the case but I think, Kansas weekend, you see what can happen when the car is right and that gives me the confidence to do more. And I think that, as time goes on and you get more seasoned as a driver, you can overcome some of that, for sure. But it’s still got to be good.”
So will that translate into more confidence at the 1.5-mile ovals?
“Weekends like that are just good signs. They show hard work by everybody and they make you excited to do it more. So I think the optimism level goes up because you are riding high and you want to keep doing that. I think we have to keep our expectation levels in check a little bit and make sure we don’t just expect to go out there and run in the top-five or top-10 every time, now. We have to remember that there is a process to it and we skipped over top-15s and went straight to top-10s. Shoot, we pretty much skipped over top-20s and didn’t have many of those, either. We have to keep improving and have to keep getting in the thick of the good drivers and move up like that. It definitely gives confidence, it’s definitely a good sign, and definitely good to have those races. We just hope to have them more often.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine