Patrick finds inspiration in the honey badger as she makes move to NASCAR

Danica Patrick, with Tony Stewart, has the eye of the honey badger for 2012.
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR
Danica Patrick is inspired by the honey badger - so much so that she has a photo of the African animal set as her phone’s screensaver.

“It's a mindset,” Patrick said on her first day of Sprint Cup testing at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday. “It takes what it wants.”

If you’re like me and didn’t know what Patrick was talking about at first, her last line refers to a YouTube video about the honey badger that became an Internet sensation last year. The video features hilarious commentary by the narrator (who goes only by Randall) over nature scenes of the creature described by the Guinness World Book of Records as “the most fearless animal in all of the animal kingdom.”

As scenes of the creature fighting and overpowering a snake play, the narrator enthusiastically observes, “Honey badger don’t care … it just takes what it wants!”

The video struck a chord with Patrick, who is making the full-time move to NASCAR this season after seven years in IndyCar.

“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.”

Patrick will make her Sprint Cup debut at the Daytona 500 for Stewart-Haas Racing in the No 10 Chevrolet. In addition, she will run nine more Sprint Cup races for the team as well as a full-time Nationwide Series schedule for JR Motorsports.

Right now, the former IndyCar driver has her sights set on the Daytona 500.

“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,” Patrick said.

Like the honey badger, Patrick wants to take what she wants. It’s a confidence Patrick has acquired through the twists and turns of her path to NASCAR.

Patrick made her stockcar debut at the 2010 ARCA season opener at Daytona – finishing an impressive 6th - before embarking on a part-time schedule in the Nationwide Series. In the two years since, the IndyCar star has learned her way around the garage, struggling to understand the feel of bulky stockcars and the NASCAR terms that go with them. Patrick’s lessons included driving wrecked racecars as well as fighting for her ground against competitors on the track.

Since that first race at Daytona, Patrick has steadily improved and her finishes show it: Patrick’s average Nationwide finish jumped from 28.0 in 2010 up 11 spots to 17.4 in 2011. She scored her first of four top 10s at last year’s Las Vegas race, a fourth-place finish that puts her in the books as the highest-finishing woman in NASCAR’s history.

After the hurdles and progress, Patrick feels at ease returning to Daytona with more NASCAR experience under her belt.

“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,” Patrick said. “So it's nice to be here to run for the first time and feel comfortable in having been here before.”

With her new team and new surroundings, Patrick compared the first day of testing to the first day of school. She’s still getting to know her team, admitting she doesn’t remember everyone’s names yet.

And as she gets used to her environment, she’ll make mistakes along the way. Patrick playfully chided herself for missing the garage entrance on pit road and having to back up. “I didn't want to trip like that,” she said.

“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.”

Tony Stewart, 2011 Sprint Cup champion and Patrick's team owner, said it’s still up in the air as to whether the team will buy owner points, use Stewart’s owner points or rely on qualifying to get Patrick in the Daytona 500.

“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,” Stewart said.

After making her first two laps in a Sprint Cup car in Thursday’s morning session, Patrick jumped to 5th fastest on the charts. She ended the session in 8th place, outrunning both her bosses, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (11th) and Stewart (12th). She closed out the afternoon session in 16th, right behind Stewart.

Patrick said the focus during Thursday’s sessions was finding speed, but on Friday the team will switch gears to drafting. In both Nationwide races at Daytona last year, Patrick turned heads as she quickly grasped the two-car style of drafting, even rubbing bumpers with future boss Stewart.

The Daytona test marks the first time Patrick is working with interim crew chief Greg Zipadelli, also Stewart-Haas Racing’s new competition director. Patrick said the two hit it off immediately.

“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,” Patrick said.

As she enters her first full season in NASCAR, Patrick tried to sum up the emotions she is feeling.

“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.”

As comfortable as a honey badger in its environment, Patrick’s also off to a good start.
Patrick finds inspiration in the honey badger as she makes move to NASCAR Patrick finds inspiration in the honey badger as she makes move to NASCAR Reviewed by Rebecca Kivak on Thursday, January 12, 2012 Rating: 5