A little more than four months have gone by since Danica Patrick took the motorsports world by storm by winning the Pole for the Daytona 500. For a full week, Patrick appeared in the lives of American and people all over the world. Newspapers, websites, news programs and just about every medium possible took her history making Pole win and turned it into a campaign to get more people than ever to tune into the Great American Race.
Since Patrick’s eights place finish to kick off the season, her results and statistics have been less than spectacular. With two more top-15 finishes under her belt since Daytona, she can mostly be found running below the top-20, but what most need to remember is that she is a Rookie.
On the heels of comments made my analyst and former driver Kyle Petty, Patrick is well on her way to proving him wrong. Petty recently accused Patrick of being a “marketing machine” and “not a racecar driver.” These comments weren’t necessarily warranted or deserved and Patrick, when asked what her thoughts were, said she didn’t care what he thought; you can’t please everybody.
This weekend, the series is back at Daytona for the Coke Zero 400 and Patrick is back in her comfort zone. Nearing the top of the speed charts during yesterday’s practice, the GoDaddy car is fast and ready to go. Unfortunately, this isn’t the same car she won the Pole award with.
“Well, we lost that poor car at Talladega,” she said in her press conference last weekend. “So we are going back with our backup, which is a really good car, anyway. We tested with it at the beginning of the year and I expect it to go in a similar fashion. I think we will still be pretty fast.”
Patrick and the team are optimistic about this weekend and hope to build on February’s performance.
“Will we qualify on the pole and run in the top-three or five all day? I don’t know, maybe,” she said. “The heat always changes things a little bit, but it’s a different car, and it’s going to be a different Hendrick engine. All that stuff just leads to a slightly different weekend. But I expect it to be somewhat similar, at least from a good standpoint in my head.
When she took the white flag in the Daytona 500, Patrick was running third but crossing the stripe to take the checkers she finished eighth. She hopes to have a better plan in place this time for the end of the race.
“I was disappointed at the end of the race that I just didn’t have a better grasp as to what I needed to do to shoot for a better finish than where I was,” she said. “It really helped teach me, I feel, what happens at the end of the race and how to set them up. (Dale Earnhardt) Junior is really good at those big speedway races and knowing how to set things up. But, I just felt like I was just frustrated that I didn’t have a better plan.”
There were many drivers that came up to her after the race saying that they were really impressed with her run and also gave her a little advice.
“Tony (Stewart) said to me, ‘I really feel like you had more to lose in your position than you had to gain by trying something, so I think that you did the right thing.’ That made me feel better – a little bit,” she said with a bit of a smile on her face. “Was I still mad that I went from third to eighth on the lap? No, I was still disappointed in it. Jimmie (Johnson) did a nice job. We had a little conversation, and he told me I did a nice job, too. And I said I had wished I had a better plan but, ‘Thank you and I have a lot to learn.’ He said that in the two wins he had, he didn’t have a plan, and sometimes you just have to take it on the fly and work with what happens in the moment. He very kindly, later that day, said he’d seen the end of the race and said, in his opinion, the only thing I could have done was back up to Junior when he backed up, but as far as what happened on the back straight when Junior went low, in his opinion, he thought I did the right thing.”
This time, Patrick has a plan; or at least she thinks she does. She had more to lose in the Daytona 500 and taking a risky move that she wasn’t ready to make could have put her lower then 20th at the end of the race. This time, she is going all out and going for the win. With Patrick at Daytona, anything is possible and the GoDaddy team, led by Tony Gibson, is just a excited as she is for this weekend. Could she make history again this weekend? It is quite possible.