TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT CHEVROLET and DANICA PATRICK, NO. 10 GODADDY.COM CHEVROLET met with media during the PreSeason Thunder test at Daytona International Raceway, and discussed the off-season, changes going into 2012, their crew chiefs, and more.
KERRY THARP: Joining us now is Danica Patrick. She drives the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Stewart Haas Racing. Danica, it's great to see you back here at Daytona. You're going to be making your Sprint Cup Series debut in the biggest race of the season. Talk about that, being able to come to the biggest platform and the biggest venue that we race, and it's a place where you actually got your NASCAR start a while back. Talk about being here racing at Daytona.
DANICA PATRICK: Well, it's good to be back. It's not been too long of an off season, that's for sure. But I made the most of the weeks that I had, so it's good to be back, and the car seems pretty good so far, pretty fast. Not too different yet as we're just running out there by ourselves at this point in time. But it's going to be really exciting. Obviously it's the biggest race of the year. I'd really like to run well, and I don't just want to be here, I want to run well.
I think at a place like Daytona there's that opportunity. I think I'll probably have slightly more realistic expectations for some of the other ones, but for this one at Daytona I think there's a real opportunity.
Q. What is on your to do list today with Zipadelli? What do you guys want to accomplish short term?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, today is just run on our own and seeing how fast we can get the car to go. And then I think tomorrow we'll work on bump drafting. And I heard Tony say he's going to let someone else go do it first with the new rear spoiler and spring. So that's fine with me. I said I think I want to be the one getting pushed so that I don't want to be the one that takes out my boss. That would be bad. I said you can push me first.
KERRY THARP: Speaking of Tony Stewart, he joins us now. Tony is our three time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. He, of course, won the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in fine fashion with a walk off victory at Homestead Miami Speedway.
Tony, talk about winning the championship. You've had, I guess, I don't know how many days to maybe decompress, if you do such a thing.
TONY STEWART: Two.
KERRY THARP: Two days. But now you're at Daytona, and certainly it's a race that you would love to win, the Daytona 500 here in about 45 days. Talk a little bit about coming in as the defending series champion and then trying to win at Daytona.
TONY STEWART: Well, obviously the end of the year last year was still almost like a fairy tale for us, storybook ending obviously. But this is our biggest race of the year. It starts today. Well, it started the day after Homestead actually for the crew guys, and today is the first day that we get to get an idea of the rewards for their hard work and see these cars on the racetrack and see what kind of speed they have. It's an exciting time for the crew chiefs, the car chiefs, all the engineers, all the people that build these cars. Today is a really big day for all of them and what they've done during the off season to get ready for the 500.
Our sport is unique obviously having our biggest race the first race of the year. But it's very fitting at the same time because this race, we have more time during the off season to prepare for this race than we do the others. You bring cars here that you have the extra time to just make them that little bit nicer than you normally have time to do.
It's exciting to be back, and looking forward to it. It's been fun to get back in the car today and get running around. Normally I'm hiding from the racetrack in testing, but it was fun to come back this morning and get back in the car and get rolling around again.
Q. Danica, in the last month, I guess, it was decided that you'll be paired with Zippy at least for the time being. How long will it take for you to get a good relationship with him, and what sort of differences, if you've even had a chance to see, are between he and Tony, Jr.? And then for Mr. Stewart, why did you think that Zippy would be a good fit with Danica?
DANICA PATRICK: His accent is not as thick as Tony, Jr. I understand every word he says. We get along great. I feel really comfortable with him so far. I feel respected, and I feel like he's been very patient. Even the little things, getting here this morning and just kind of adjusting a belt a little bit and adjusting a throttle a little bit, he doesn't look at me like I'm inexperienced and I should be comfortable right away or it should be right or the throttle doesn't feel right or I should get used to it and be used to it. He investigates and says no problem, let's get it right, and makes me comfortable with that kind of stuff.
Obviously we haven't worked together with the whole how the car feels and how we're going to change it and that kind of stuff, and especially here at Daytona, that's probably we're probably not going to get a lot of that. It's not that kind of a track. But I can say so far I feel very comfortable and I feel very fortunate to have him to work with to have that experience. So thank you, Tony.
TONY STEWART: You know, I think for us it was a scenario where we were trying to get Zippy hired as a competition director, but it really was a perfect opportunity for us because it's hard to get a really good crew chief hired to only run ten races a year in the first year. So to have somebody like Greg that has been working with Joey and has been a crew chief for the last 13 straight years, he can come into this scenario, and he's brought the last two guys he had both were rookies when they came in. So he's familiar with this and the process of getting a rookie adapted to the car and knowing what to do to make them comfortable.
So for us from a company standpoint it made sense to have him since we had him in house anyway to be able to apply him over there in a crew chief role and at the same time the practicality of it, of him having that experience of working with new drivers, makes it a smart decision for us to have somebody like him that can work with Danica and know what those know how to go through those learning processes and how to help with that. So we get the best of both worlds with it.
Q. Danica, for you, some drivers talk about working with a new team like being the first day at school, butterflies that go with that, nerves that go with that even though you've been in the car a lot. And Tony, it's somewhat reminiscent of 12 years ago, you coming to test with Zippy the way you did in 1999. Talk about that, and what's it like to see Zippy on your side again in your team colors working for you?
DANICA PATRICK: It is a little like first day. I think that with racing you do have an opportunity to meet some of the people just at the track in general, and then of course making a seat and getting comfortable and fitting everything, you get a chance to meet everybody. I can't say I remember everybody's name yet. Somebody said hello to me last night, and they're like, Hey, don't just walk by. There's so many people, I don't know who everyone is yet. I've got a lot of people to learn.
But I do just like probably like going to the first day of school, you want to make a good impression, you want to do a good job. And probably missing pit in on pit road and having to back up is probably not what you want to do at school. I didn't want to trip like that. But it's probably not that big of a deal. It's finding your way around, finding my locker literally. There's no combination for it, of course, but it is a locker that I needed to find, getting in sync with that.
They said they were going to Olive Garden to get some lunch and would that be okay, and I was like, well, I guess I usually have a sandwich. So anyway, just getting familiar with all the little things and getting comfortable and setting everything up so when I hop in throughout the year it's simple and straightforward.
TONY STEWART: You know, it's nice having Zippy back. I got to work with him for ten years, so seeing him at the track here today was the first big reminder of kind of going back to what it was like to start with him in '99. I know we're excited to have him back, and we're not working in the same capacity together that we did for ten years, but he's right there next door, and it feels like home again. So I'm pretty excited about it.
Q. (No microphone.)
TONY STEWART: It's odd, I got a sandwich for lunch.
DANICA PATRICK: What kind of sandwich did you get?
TONY STEWART: I just got a ham sandwich.
DANICA PATRICK: I like a turkey sandwich. They're going to get some slick meat for me to put in the fridge. I learned what slick meat was. I don't know, I called it sliced deli meat, right, some deli meat and some cheese and some bread and mustard.
Q. Danica, when you were here in '09 for that ARCA test, I know you said you had trouble figuring out how to get your hair into your uniform and get in the car and little things like that. Did the day feel more natural, like business as usual for you? And after that I wanted to talk about your infatuation with the honey badger.
DANICA PATRICK: It did feel a little bit more comfortable, yeah. I'm really kind of glad that the first time that I'm in a Cup car is here at Daytona where I can get the fit right and get all the little things right so that when we go to a track that's a little bit more challenging from a driver's perspective that stuff is all good to go and there's no concern or no distraction with those things. So it's nice to be here to run for the first time and feel comfortable in having been here before. But like I said, it's a pretty straightforward track for a driver.
And the honey badger, it was last year, I think, somebody showed me this video of the honey badger, and the commentator on it was very, very funny. Anyway, the honey badger, he doesn't give a crap, he takes what he wants. And that's how I'm going to be this year, like a honey badger. But I feel like it's a little diluted with the football player that has the honey badger nickname, too. He's No. 7, as well.
Q. LSU, Tyrann Mathieu.
DANICA PATRICK: I bet he's not feeling like a honey badger. I bet anyway, the video is great. He eats a poisonous snake and he falls asleep and wakes right back up. The video is funny, so I encourage you all to watch that. I think Randall something is the commentator or the name on the YouTube video.
I don't know, it's a mindset. I even have a honey badger picture on my screen saver on my phone to inspire me. It takes what it wants.
Q. Have you been able to kind of wrap your arms around the emotion of entering this series full time, and does it compare to anything else that you've done in terms of just starting out? Again, if you can just kind of tell us emotionally kind of where you're at in terms of how you feel about entering the big stage.
DANICA PATRICK: I'm really excited and I'm really happy. And that's it. I mean, yeah, there's nerves. There's a lot of things that are unknown, especially with running the full time Nationwide championship, wanting to do really well in that, and wanting to make a good impression in the Cup races that I'm doing. But overall I'm feeling comfortable, as comfortable as I could imagine myself in this situation, and just really excited and really happy and glad to be where I'm at.
Q. Tony, have you decided if you're going to give Danica your owner points or if you're still looking for points, or is she just going to have to qualify her way into the 500?
TONY STEWART: I think we're still trying to figure that equation out, but the good thing is looking on the sheet today, the car seems to have good speed right off the bat. I've got the utmost confidence that even in the worst case scenario that we've got the right driver that can get this car in the race, no problem. But we're working through that and trying to get that finalized and trying to figure out our options to make sure we give her the best opportunity to get in the Daytona 500 and get her all the experience that we can get her.
Q. With these rules changes, what kind of racing do you think we'll see, because race fans don't like tandem racing. What do you think will come out of this test?
TONY STEWART: We haven't ran together yet, so it's hard to tell until we get out there and actually do it. I don't know if anybody is even planning on trying to do any two car pack running today. I think you'll see some of that tomorrow.
I don't think we'll honestly have an accurate answer for you until we actually get a chance to get on track and actually run together and find out what the cars are going to do and how they're going to draft with each other.
DANICA PATRICK: Is it true that fans don't like it at all? I know I've watched some of the races that I'm not in and I think it's kind of interesting. I'm not saying it's normal; it seems kind of weird for sure. But I don't know, I watch it and I think it's kind of exciting. You never know what's going to happen. I don't know, I was just asking.