Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Danica Patrick on racing at NHMS in the Nationwide Series - NASCAR teleconference (6/22/10)

Danica Patrick spoke with the media during a NASCAR teleconference Tuesday. Patrick talked about her return to the NASCAR Nationwide Series this Saturday, June 26, driving for JR Motorsports at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.


Click here to listen to audio of the teleconference

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We're pleased to be joined today by special guest Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 7 GoDaddy.Com Chevrolet for Junior Motorsports. Danica is back with NASCAR after a four-month absence coinciding with the start of the IZod IndyCar Series season. She has three Nationwide Series races to her credit this season at Daytona, Auto Club Speedway in Las Vegas. And after New Hampshire, she's scheduled to make nine more NASCAR Nationwide Series starts this season.
        
Thank you for joining us today. You're doing sort of your own version of double duty now with open wheel and stock cars. How do you think the transition is going to be coming back into NASCAR after this little break? And have you had any opportunities to reacquaint yourself with the stock car before this weekend?

DANICA PATRICK: Hi, everybody. Thanks for coming on. Yeah, I really am not concerned about -- there's nothing that sticks out where it's something completely, you know, something different that I have to prepare for.
        
I don't know. It's really hard to answer how the transition will be, because it's going to be what it is. And it's kind of unknown. And I've started doing more stock cars, and then went to Indy cars. There wasn't much overlap, necessarily. But there was some testing in amongst. But I've gone back and forth, I guess you could say, between the two.
        
And they're just so different that you don't get confused, you know? So I'm just looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to getting back to the team, to the fans, to the paddock and everybody in it.
        
Everybody was so nice when I first came into the series at the beginning of the year. So I'm just really looking forward to seeing everybody again.
        
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Danica.
            
Q. Just wanted to get your reaction to the news that the IRL is planning to come to New Hampshire next year. What thoughts do you have on that and do you think this is going to give you a little bit of a leg up, getting a look at the track before anybody else?
        
DANICA PATRICK: I didn't know that was news. I kind of heard little rumors about it. But that's great news. I love the fact we'll be putting another short oval back on to the schedule, because we're down to one this year that we just finished with.
        
So I always think short oval racing in an Indy car is great. And so it will be even better that I'll get a chance to get a look at the track and get familiar with it all this year if it's on the schedule next year. That's awesome. It's a real positive.
        
Coming into that area, too, and being up in the northeast a little bit more, I think will be good. So that's great news.
            
Q. Two quick topics and one quick question. Specifically the New Hampshire, what are your concerns about a track you haven't done before, and it's kind of different from most other NASCAR tracks? And also with the news in your absence that the Hendrick Motorsports situation is kind of getting overcrowded with Kasey Kane, does that give you any concern about your long-term prospects in NASCAR?
        
DANICA PATRICK: The first question being about coming back in New Hampshire and racing there, right?
            
Q. Right.
        
DANICA PATRICK: So I'm nervous because it's new and there's so much to learn about the way a race goes, how the race kind of plays out normally, and the yellow flags and the pit stops and how the car changes over a fuel run and how the tires change. And there's just so much that I'm unfamiliar with.
        
And so that makes me -- that makes me nervous because I care and I want to do well. And I'm not going to know it all the first time I go there, but I hope to do a good job. So I know that people are watching and I want to put on a good show for the fans. I want to give them a reason to cheer for me.
        
So I just want to do well. So I'm just nervous for that, as it's all very unfamiliar. And then with Kasey coming over to Hendrick, I think that's great for him. He's a fantastic driver. And Hendrick is obviously the top team.
        
And for my situation, I don't really know. I think that, you know, we first have to go through this process and run Nationwide and see how it goes and see what kind of things are in the future for me.
        
But, yeah, I mean, gosh, if you had the opportunity to drive for Mr. Hendrick and NASCAR, then that's a fantastic opportunity that anyone should take. And maybe I'll be lucky enough one day. But I think we have a lot to go through to get to that point.
        
Q. You've hit your best stretch of the IndyCar season here with three straight top 10s. Is a small part of you hoping maybe you were still in IndyCar this weekend, because you could keep that role going, or could you carry some of that confidence and momentum despite being in a totally different car this weekend at New Hampshire?
        
DANICA PATRICK: I think that it can keep going. It can stop. I don't know. I mean, it was a little bit of a tough weekend in Iowa in the Indy car. But I think we still made the most of what was a difficult weekend.
        
But I'm indifferent. It doesn't really matter. I think that the roles kind of come from everybody around you being upbeat and positive and on their game. And that includes, if it was in an IndyCar, that includes those IndyCar people. So perhaps it does not carry on over into another series with another group of guys. But, then, again, my confidence is there.
        
I'm eager to learn the Nationwide car. And I think that -- I think that the best thing I can do for myself on the NASCAR weekends is really come up with some realistic expectation levels instead of having them be like IndyCar expectation levels where I'm hoping to win and I'm hoping to finish on the podium, those kinds of things.
        
Those are probably a little bit more unrealistic in Nationwide at this point for how much I still have to learn. So that's probably the best way that I can come away with momentum coming from Loudon, would be to set a realistic expectation level, and hopefully that happens.
        
Q. Wondered how you felt about -- I know this is down the road but I think people here are already talking about it -- racing at PIR on November 13th, I know it's a provincial question, but how do you feel about being in a place, an area you call your home when you are home?

DANICA PATRICK: Well, I was dispointed to see it go off the schedule in IndyCar. So it will be good to be there. It will be nice to sleep in my own bed. I'm excited for that. I think Phoenix is a great track. I think it's challenging, and I'm sure it will be even more challenging in a stock car with less grip.

But it is a bit down the road, and I'll have a lot more experience to that point, especially racing on a short oval or two from now until then. So, yeah, I'm really looking forward to it.
        
Q. Danica, you mentioned a minute ago in Nate's question having realistic expectation levels. What are those expectation levels this weekend?
        
DANICA PATRICK: I think it's probably better for me to say like, you know, I hope this weekend I finish in the top 20 or the top 15. And kind of build myself up.
        
I didn't really set any expectation levels in the first few races that I did. And I think it would have paid off to do that, even in qualifying, set some expectation levels. Like I've had a tough time because qualifying is so different in those cars, you never experience the amount of grip or the kind of car that you get in qualifying until you're really in qualifying.
        
So that takes some learning. So to say, hey, look, qualifying in the top 20 and maybe finishing in the top 15, that would be great. And build myself up from there and then hopefully one day they'll be the same expectation levels that I have in IndyCar.
        
But I think it's best for my confidence and my morale to set those kinds of expectation levels.
            
Q. You had three starts at Michigan International Speedway at IndyCar before the race was abandoned up here. You come in August for the Nationwide race. Can you bring anything from your previous experience at MIS to that weekend?
        
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I think it's always good to have a visual of the track. It's always very different when you actually get out there from when you can see it in pictures or you're just standing in the infield. So it's nice to know those little things, where pit road is, and the things you have to get used to very quickly on a race weekend if you've never been there.
        
And when you put all those new things on top of each other, things feel very chaotic and overwhelming. So just having been there and seeing the place and knowing what it's like and how the track surface is and everything, I think it's a really nice thing for me to have that going into the race weekend, because it always goes by very quickly.
        
Q. What I wanted to ask you about was how much you've kept in touch with NASCAR while you've been gone. I know a lot of fans have followed you. Have you watched tapes? Have you watched the races? Are you studying the races? I know you've kept in touch with your crew chief. But what have you done to keep in touch with what we're doing over here while you've been racing over there?
        
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I've not been watching anything. It's kind of one weekend at a time for me. I'm home for sort of a day or two here and there. And then it's off to the next one. So I've been very focused on the IndyCar stuff and trying to do a good job and trying to get up there and get a win, and that's definitely taken, dominated a lot of my time.
        
But I've kept in touch, and we've tested a little bit, and we're trying to make sure that I'm ready to go for Loudon and get familiar again. So just those kinds of things, and now this week preparing for that race, I'll get to the track and I'll find out more about the car. And I don't claim to know much about the car itself, though. I could go through an IndyCar top to bottom almost and be able to explain kind of the car and the things we change and everything.
        
And a NASCAR setup is much different with truck arms in a car and I find out there's two of them. It's so unfamiliar for me. So the setup is something that Tony, Jr. does a good job of adapting to me, and he knows from the first couple of races what kind of things I need to be able to get up to speed quickly and have confidence in the car. And I think Las Vegas was a good example of that, learning from Fontana. Unfortunately, our race was cut short. But I think it would have been a good race for me.
        
And so I'll look at some in car or look at some old footage just how the race goes once I get there and once I have that in my hands.
        
Q. If I could broaden the scope here to the New England sports teams in general. Celtics just went to Game 7 of the NBA Finals. They've won championships. The Bruins went to the playoffs. The Red Sox have won championships. The Patriots and so forth. What do you know about the Boston sports scene in general, and what does your presence in New England do to add to that?
        
DANICA PATRICK: I know that it's very intense for its sports in Boston. I went to Boston for the first time actually during at the end of the month just before the Indy 500, at the end of May. And I had never been to Boston before. So it's a beautiful city.
        
It's so much bigger than I imagined. I felt like I was in that bus going through downtown, I think we were in the bus for like an hour and a half. So it's a big city. Lots to see. Beautiful.
        
And I was kind of cheering for -- I was cheering for the Celtics. I was. I know that's not a popular answer with my friends in LA. But I met Ray Allen a couple of years ago at the SB Awards. He was just a nice guy. I was kind of cheering for them. But obviously the Lakers are pretty good too, and Kobe is a nice guy. But I was torn. I was cheering for the Celtics.
        
I think they obviously embrace their sports. And I've raced in Watkins Glen in an Indy car, but I really haven't been anywhere other than that in the northeast, the New England area, for racing. So I'm excited to see what the fan turnout is like, but I'm sure if it's anything like how they cheer for all the rest of their sports, it will be great.
        
Q. I know you've answered this before, but I remember earlier in the season after you'd run a few Nationwide races, Darrell Waltrip was one of the people who said racing in the Nationwide Series would help you in IndyCar racing. Since then, with some of your results in IndyCar, some people have said that racing in the Nationwide Series has hurt you in IndyCar. Would you comment on that, please?
        
DANICA PATRICK: I don't see how racing cars can make you a worse race car driver. So I put every ounce of effort into everything that I do. And you know the IndyCar Series has become the most difficult field I've been in. The drivers are so good and everybody's so equal out there that you have an on weekend, and like at Texas for me last weekend, or the weekend before, I almost won the race. Then you have an off weekend and you find yourself in 15th.
        
I guess it's a little bit maybe more like NASCAR. The fields are so good and everybody's so close, and everything needs to go right. So I'm enjoying the two of them. I think it's best -- I think it's good for any race car driver to be in the seat a lot, and that's definitely what I'm doing.
            
Q. I was wondering if it's any easier for you to go to New Hampshire after your last three IndyCar results, having the three top 10s there as opposed to maybe if you were coming back to NASCAR about six weeks ago?
        
DANICA PATRICK: I think that it's a whole different thing. I really think a lot about like what I did the last time I was in a stock car and what I need to remember for next time. And so -- and I've found that the fans and the people have been very positive and embracing. And so I really think it's just -- any time is the right time. So it doesn't matter what's happening in the IndyCar side.
        
As one of my friends told me, you're one good race -- you're one weekend away from turning it around, because it just takes one. It could be any one. It could be a NASCAR race. It could be an IndyCar race. It just so happens I've had a couple of good runs in the last few weeks. And I'm sure that helps my confidence a little bit. But it's still a whole new weekend with expectation levels and people to impress and me not wanting to let myself down on what I think is possible.

Q. Are there any courses you're looking forward to racing in NASCAR courses that maybe you've heard about or maybe ones you've raced in your Indy car?
        
DANICA PATRICK: Hmm, well, the one coming up being Loudon, I'm excited because it's a lot like Milwaukee, I heard, and I have always enjoyed going to Milwaukee over the last -- well, unfortunately not this year but for seven years previously. And so it's good to get that feel of a nice flat track and a short track. So that one.
        
I look forward to going back to Phoenix as well. It's a place I thought was cool in an IndyCar. I think it will be interesting to see how Michigan will go, since it's the Car of Tomorrow, and it's just one of those sort of big, fast tracks at least in an IndyCar. I'm curious how it will be in a stock car.
        
I felt things have been very different from one car to another at a track. So it will probably seem a lot -- at Fontana, at the beginning of the year, it was a place that in an IndyCar you are just flat out running on the white line. You never lift.
        
And then I get into a stock car and traditional line and the car is -- you have to lift and maybe even brake sometimes. And all of a sudden this track that felt really big in an IndyCar felt really small in a stock car; and, of course, I was going even slower.
        
So things are definitely different. But I'm looking forward to those few this year that I'm going to be racing at.
            
Q. You talked a few minutes ago about racing in Arizona, your current home. But you'll also be back in your home state in Joliet in three weeks. Curious, what kind of distractions do you run into and how do you deal with racing in front of family and old friends from Illinois?
            
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, I shouldn't forget Chicago. I look forward to it. I love the city of Chicago. It's such a great city. I was just there last week for a couple of days.
        
And it's a great place. And I think that my family and my friends, I'm sure there will be extras there, because it's close. But I have great friends, great family, and they come see me in lots of different places.
        
So I keep my life as simple as possible at the racetrack on those kinds of weekends, and everybody -- everybody's warned beforehand, usually not even by me but my husband or someone who says look nothing's going to happen during the race weekend but we'll see you after or maybe not, depends on how the race goes. Everyone's always really respectful.

And my number one priority is to go out there and perform on the racetrack. And that doesn't leave me a lot of extra time to entertain. So unfortunately they won't get necessarily that entertained by me but they will when they watch the race, and that's why they're there.

Q. Can you talk about -- I guess the learning curve, and the difference between being out there and testing on your own versus being able to go out there with other drivers. Because I remember in Vegas it seemed when Kevin Harvick passed you, you were able to keep up with him. Seemed like you were out there learning based on what he was doing. Can you talk about those two differences?
        
DANICA PATRICK: You know, when you are testing, you are by yourself. Gives you a chance to not have to be looking in your mirror, doing all those kinds of things to see where people are and maneuvering around other cars. So it really does allow you the chance to be able to feel the car and feel changes and testing for me is really important at this point, because I'm so new.
        
But it's really, when you get out there in the race is really when you learn the most. You're forced to learn. You're forced to get out there and go. Something as cool as like what Kevin did at Vegas was just, you know, I mean it's stuff like that that you can't get when you're testing by yourself.

So the racing is really where you learn. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to learn in front of everybody all year and the year after. But it's the best place to do it.

Q. I wanted to ask you if you could give us some specifics on how much testing you have been able to do since the last time you were in a stock car, and if you can just explain maybe -- I'm assuming the comfort level is a lot better for you this time getting in than it was back in the spring.

DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, simple things like the car fits and the belts and the seat and the pedals, and all that stuff is no issue. And you just get in and you go.

You know, we tested at Milwaukee, and it gave me a good head start on Loudon to be able to get familiar with a car on a track that's similar. So I ran there. And hopefully it's prepared me. I'm sure Loudon will still be a little bit different. But it's good to get familiar again, and it also gives a direction to what kind of setup I like on the car and that kind of a track.

Q. I wanted to kind of build on the prior question about Chicago. I know Chicagoland Speedway is a track you're also pretty familiar with. And seems like you ran pretty well there. You were on the pole one year and had a couple of top 10s. Will the familiarity, combined with the good runs you've had there, do you think that will benefit you when you come to Chicagoland Speedway?

DANICA PATRICK: As I mentioned, it's always quite different in a stock car. Look, I don't think there's any way that being familiar with the track can hurt me. But it's really about me learning what it takes for me in a stock car to be happy on the track, to be comfortable, to get the most out of myself.

So as you see in IndyCar, sometimes it's a good week and sometimes it's a bad week. And I'm not a different driver from one to the other. But the car does change. The car suited for the track is always changing, too, and sometimes you miss it and sometimes you don't.

So I think that that's really ultimately the most important thing, is that the car is set up well for me at the track. And it's also about me learning what that means. And I think that there's probably a little bit more compromising in a stock car, because the car, the tires go off of it quicker and the car slides around a little bit more. And there's nothing inside of the cockpit as far as adjustments you can make to chase the car and help it out. Where, in IndyCar, there's a few things we can do inside of the cockpit to help with the handling.

So I think that's really what it comes down to is being the most important thing. But familiarity is always nice, because it's just one less thing to worry about.

Q. Danica, based on the economy, maybe other factors, attendance isn't always the best at Nationwide races. How interested are you to see what kind of difference you might make racing in these Nationwide races? Do you feel a little bit of responsibility that you'll be the drawing card for these remaining races?

DANICA PATRICK: No, I don't feel responsibility. I'm just a driver out there that's getting an opportunity. And I'm going out there and getting experience and trying to do well at the end of the day. So I don't feel any responsibility.

I feel lucky that I have so many fans. And I feel lucky that people follow me. And I heard that ticket sales were up like 30% or something like that at Loudon for the Nationwide race or for something. So I know that the ratings were up in the races I was in at the start of the year. That's great.

Really, that comes down to the sponsors doing a great job of publicizing that and advertising and the media outlets to let everyone know that I'm going to be there. But, really, I am just really lucky as an athlete that people are curious how I'm doing and want to see. So I just do my best to put on a show and hopefully it's something that gives people a reason to smile and cheer, and if I do that, then I'm doing my job.

Q. How are you finding this season? At Indy, before you started to turn your season around over in the Indy cars, you said it was tougher than you thought. But we're heading into the summer and you're in a race car almost every weekend. How are you finding it?

DANICA PATRICK: It's definitely more busy. I do find myself to be in a car more often than anything else, which is a nice kind of busy as opposed to spending all my time flying around doing autograph sessions or photo shoots or commercials or something like that.

I definitely am in a car a lot. And that's the best thing for me. Really, it's just about managing that part of my life to make sure that I get a maximum amount of rest when I have a day off or two. And trying to always stay upbeat and in a good mood and stay positive and look at the positives because when you're going, going, going sometimes it's a little easy to get a little negative and it's important to look at the good things. And I'm really fortunate that I get to do all of this and race this many races.
        
So I feel lucky, and I'm going to keep that attitude and keep on going.

Q. You have obviously had three pretty good top 10 finishes going into New Hampshire. But the No. 7 team seems to have picked up the pace a little by having a top 10 finish at Road America. Does it make you feel better knowing that the team's going to have that confidence this week in Loudon?
        
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I think it's great for the car to be earning those points and keeping us in a good position to always be qualifying. And it's cool that the team's done that and kept the car going.
       
I'm sure that the guys are upbeat about having a good weekend. I know they've had a tough year. I know there's been a bit of damage and a lot of drivers shuffling around in the car. So I know they're a little tired. But hopefully we can come away from Loudon with no dents and a good result and more points for the Go Daddy 7 car.
         
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.

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