KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – The No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS is loaded up and ready. Crew chief Tony Gibson and the GoDaddy.com crew are ready. And, most importantly, Danica Patrick is ready for the start of her first full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
After seven full seasons in the IZOD IndyCar Series and one full season of NASCAR Nationwide Series competition, Patrick is about to embark on the longest and toughest season in all of racing. In IndyCar, she competed in only one race a year of 500 miles in length – the world famous Indianapolis 500. In the Sprint Cup Series, 10 of the 36 races on the schedule are 500 miles or more in length and only six are less than 300 miles.
Patrick will drive more miles than she ever has in a season, but she’ll do so with a veteran crew led by crew chief Gibson. The Go Daddy crew and Gibson worked with Patrick last November at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Phoenix International Raceway in order to get prepared for the 2013 season.
The two-race “get-to-know-you” session worked well as Patrick had her two best Sprint Cup races of 2012. She finished 24th at Texas and 17th at Phoenix, her best two Sprint Cup finishes in 10 career starts, all of which came last season.
While Patrick, a Rookie of the Year candidate, lacks a ton of Sprint Cup experience, a new car may help level the playing field for her as she embarks on her first full season at NASCAR’s highest level. NASCAR’s sixth-generation Sprint Cup car (Gen-6) is being used for the first time this season, meaning even veteran drivers won’t have old notes to work from, given that the new machines are vastly different (and better looking) than the Gen-5 automobiles.
So the car is ready, the team is prepared and the driver is relaxed and focused as the new journey begins.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk about your outlook for the year. “I think the Daytona test went very well. Obviously, the car is fast. At the Charlotte test, we learned a lot, got more comfortable and, more than anything, kind of found a better balance as the day went on, improved our race pace. I’m sure there are going to be some trying moments moving through the beginning part of the year, but we kind of know it’s going to be a challenging year and there’s just a lot to learn. We’ll move through that together and we’ll keep our heads up, and we’re still going to have some good days, too, and those will be nice rewards for our hard work. But it’s that time of year where everybody is feeling relatively optimistic.”
Tony Stewart chose 10 of the toughest races on the schedule for you last year. Do you feel like, having been through the tougher races, you’ll see the benefit of that this year? “Of course. I think whenever you get the tough ones out of the way, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I think last week they were saying Tony was wondering why I wasn’t doing Martinsville at the end of the year, and somebody said, ‘Well, you picked the schedule, you tell us why she didn’t do Martinsville.’ So we’ll be obviously testing there before we get to race there. But, other than that, I mean, I think Pocono is the only other one I haven’t been to. There will still be some challenges ahead as far as new experiences, but just getting those – the toughest ones – out of the way first is going to be nice going into the season. And, hopefully, it’ll help us in the long run, of course.”
Do you feel like competing in 10 races last year will make you more comfortable this year since the Sprint Cup Series will not be completely new to you? “I think all the experience I had last year, of course, is going to make me a little more comfortable moving into this year. I think just the little things like fitting in the car and just the stuff you’re constantly messing with when you first get in with a team, that’s all gone and you can really hit the ground running as far as how does the car feel, how do I improve it. Obviously, I’m familiar with the people who work at Stewart-Haas and that just makes it all easier when you get going for the next year. We still have a lot to do, though, and there’s a lot of stuff I haven’t experienced, yet. I’m still in Cup for the first time, full-time, so that’s going to be difficult in and of itself.”
Talk about working with your crew chief Tony Gibson. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: He’s a great guy. I haven’t come across anyone who doesn’t like Tony Gibson. For some reason, I like these good ol’ boys. I got along great with Tony Eury Jr., and I feel like they just have a good feel for the sport and they’re real hands-on, and that’s nice, I guess. That’s a big compliment for somebody different like me to come in and make a good ol’ boy a fan of mine and work hard for me and want to do that job. That’s a nice compliment.”
What specific things do you want to work on this year? “I feel like I tend to work on similar issues no matter where I go or what I do, and then there are ones I don’t have to work on because they are more natural to me and I’m naturally maybe better at. But it’s usually things like getting on and off pit road well. It’s qualifying, getting up to speed quickly. That’s stuff where you need to really, really trust the car and know what it’s going to do. I’m just not there, yet, especially now in Cup starting that full-time. It’s just a learning process. It took a while to get there in Nationwide, but I did, especially from more of a qualifying get-up-to-speed perspective, and I’m sure that’ll happen in Cup in due time.”
Does the new car help level the playing field for you as a rookie? “Well, I mean, again, we’re obviously all dealing with the new car. I think it’s nice from a driver’s perspective like mine, without a lot of experience in the Cup Series, to be able to kind of start with this new car, now, because I won’t take any bad habits in, I won’t take any pre-conceived ideas as to what the car is doing or can be doing for me out on the track. It’s a clean slate and I think that’s a good thing. It’s definitely not bad.”
What are your expectations for Daytona? “I don’t know. Does anybody know what to expect when they go to Daytona? I think what makes it exciting for the fans and exciting for everybody is every now and again you have a surprise, and I would hope to be one of those surprises. That would be nice. Obviously it was about as bad as it could go last year getting taken out in the Nationwide race after starting on the pole, and getting taken out in the last lap of the Duel and the first lap of the Daytona 500. Those are all the worst times to get taken out. We’re only looking up from there I say, right?”
Tony Gibson has a habit of calling everyone “Old Man.” Has he called you “Old Man,” yet? “He only called me Old Man once. It was maybe after Charlotte qualifying or Atlanta qualifying. I think I qualified like 21st or 23rd. I don’t know, it was like a decent qualifying for me, and he comes in and I picked up like 1.2 seconds in qualifying, and he was like, ‘Old Man, good job.’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, sorry.’ I said ‘I’m glad you’re feeling comfortable enough to call me Old Man. That’s fine, but you could call me Old Lady, too, and I wouldn’t be mad.’
You’ve had a long association with Go Daddy. Talk about that. “One of the most important roles is the sponsor and I’ve got the best one in Go Daddy. They gave me the ability to take my time and move from IndyCar to NASCAR. I’m not sure people understand how supportive they are. When I told them I wanted to drive for Stewart-Haas, they said, ‘Whatever you want to do, we support you.’ And that’s a really rare thing. I’m really lucky to have the support of Go Daddy and all their employees.”
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What is your outlook for the 2013 season? “Well, I think for us the sky’s the limit. We were fortunate enough to get a couple races at the end of the year; Texas and Phoenix went extremely well. We were really pumped up when we left both those places. Me and Danica talked after Phoenix and she was, like, when we go to Homestead, because everything was going good, guys were excited, she was running good, running up front, doing a great job. But we’re setting small goals for ourselves. I told her when we first started this deal, we’re going to set goals that we can reach, set small goals, and when we achieve it, we’ll go to the next one. And we’ve done that the two races that we did. I think we hit all our goals before we left there, so it was pretty exciting.
“We want to run good, we want to gel as a team and, like I said, it’s so exciting to have a driver who is so pumped up each day to get in the car. And the feedback she’s been giving us is tremendous, and it’s been a lot of fun to experience that again. You know, we all feel like rookies, now. I’ll tell you, we’re rookies together. That part of it’s been exciting. But we’re just setting small goals and we’re achieving them and being proud of that. We want to come out each weekend with a positive. No matter what happens on the weekend, you’ve got to bring a positive home and we can build from that and have a great season.”