KANNAPOLIS, N.C.– “We have a lot more history to make.”
Those were the words of Danica Patrick just two Sundays ago following her history-making pole run for the 55th Daytona 500 as she became the first woman to ever earn a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole position.
Making more history is just what the 30-year-old Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year candidate did in Sunday’s Daytona 500. She rewrote some of the NASCAR record book yet again thanks to an impressive eighth-place finish at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, the highest finishing position ever earned 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), becoming the first female to lead NASCAR’s most prestigious race and the first woman to lead Sprint Cup Series laps under green. Janet Guthrie led five laps under caution in 1977 at Ontario (Calif.) Motor Speedway.
This weekend, Patrick and her No. 10 GoDaddy.com team turn their attention from the high banks of Daytona to Phoenix International Raceway.
This team has been here before. In fact, just a few short months ago last November, Patrick and her Tony Gibson-led team earned a 17th-place finish at the mile oval nestled in the Arizona desert. Prior to her record-breaking run at Daytona, Phoenix was the site of Patrick’s best Sprint Cup finish.
As the No. 10 team rolls into Phoenix, it hopes to build on the momentum from Daytona and improve on last November’s finish at the home track for Patrick’s longtime sponsor, GoDaddy.com, which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz., just 30 miles east of Phoenix International Raceway.
And if they make a little more history along the way, so be it. Patrick wants to keep rewriting the history books.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your overall thoughts heading into Phoenix? “Obviously, coming off Daytona, we’ve got a lot of confidence. Tony Gibson and the Go Daddy crew are excited and I am, too. To have two good weeks in Daytona really helps set the tone for the early the part of the year. We ran well at Phoenix last year until we got taken out at the end, so we want to improve on that. It’s just about getting better every week. Obviously, it’s a big race because Go Daddy headquarters are in Scottsdale, not far from the track, and we know there will be a lot of people in Go Daddy green at the track supporting us. We want to give them something to cheer for.”
What are your expectations heading into Phoenix? “It was nice to run like we did at the end of the year last year with Texas and especially with Phoenix. I feel like it will give us a good baseline idea of how we need to set the car up. But it also is a new car, so we’ll have to adapt to that. Tony and I are still figuring out how we get the most out of me with new tires in a qualifying situation, things like that. We still have a lot of stuff to work on. But it was nice to have that race in Phoenix at the end of last year. While it might not be so much about Phoenix, I think it’s about Tony Gibson and everybody who works around him.”
Given what you accomplished at Phoenix last year and Daytona to start the season, do you adjust your expectations a little bit? “No. I mean, I think that would be unwise to sort of start telling myself that top-10 is where we need to be every week. I think that’s setting up failure. The list of drivers in the Cup series is deep. Daytona is a unique track. These tracks are different and unique. A lot about the car. I mean, you have to be smart enough to do the right thing at the right time. But it’s very much about the car. I feel like I’m still sticking to, ‘Let’s see how these first five races go where we go to a bunch of different kinds of tracks, see where we settle in.’ Then start to establish goals from there on out. The only thing we can go off of is at the end of last year and running solid inside that top-20, hopefully get inside that top-15. That’s really all I can think, right now. That’s all I can think. It might change after five races. It might be better. Who knows? It might be worse. We’re going to kind of pick up where we left off.”
You are the first woman to lead laps in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. Talk about that. “I think a stat I found more interesting is only 13 people, including me, now, have led Indy and Daytona. I thought that was a much cooler stat for me. I’m honored. But, again, these are things that just happen along the way. I’m on the quest to be the best driver, run up front, get to victory lane. These things happen and I’m proud, but they’re not the ultimate goal.”
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What has the mood been around the shop the last few days? “It’s exciting. There’s still a long way to go but, to have all three cars unload really fast and have one of the cars sit on the front row, it was a good Speedweeks. It’s been great. Everyone is pumped up and excited. But, it doesn’t last long. We were at the shop until 10 or 11 at night on Monday getting the truck loaded up so they could leave at 6 a.m. on Tuesday. Now we’re thrashing on Vegas cars because they’re going to have to leave on Friday so we can swap those out with the Phoenix cars after the race on Sunday. Everybody is really excited, but tired, too. This is a tough part of the season, but it helps to run well and get the pole at the Daytona 500. It helps at these times for the guys putting in extra effort. They know it’s paying off.
What are your thoughts heading into Phoenix? “Daytona is a different deal than Phoenix and Vegas and all these tracks we have coming up. We’ve got our work cut out for us building that notebook between Danica and I and getting her more time on these tracks. That is one of the two races we got to work with her last year and we did run extremely well. We were 12th going into the green-white-checkered after the big fight there and we were thinking, ‘We can get a top-10 here.’ We got taken out by Jeff Burton with a lap to go, but we still finished 17th, which is still good, but we were getting ready to really surpass our goals we had set for that weekend. She did a fantastic job. She stayed on the lead lap and raced her way up into the top-15 there near the end. She gave great feedback all day and did a great job, so we’re excited to go back. We know qualifying is something we have to work on at these places, getting her up to speed quicker, and that’s what we need to work on in the first part of the year. That way, when we come back in the second half, we can do even better in qualifying. Track position at these short tracks is just so huge and she knows that and, obviously, everyone else does, too.”