For Danica Patrick, the majority of her time this week at Daytona International Speedway has been consumed of questions regarding just about anything other than racing.
But now after setting the third-fastest time in the morning practice session for qualifying for next Sunday’s Daytona 500 and the fastest time in the final practice, some of the questions have changed.
“Well, I have always felt in my career that when things go well on the track the media responds to it,” said Patrick regarding all of the extra attention she has gotten thus far in Speedweeks.
” I appreciate you all showing up here and thank you. Make sure that you write about how good the crew is that made this car and the last car that was really fast and how strong the Hendrick engine is. I think that is really important here at Daytona. We are going to spend plenty of time the rest of the year talking about if a driver does something at tracks that aren’t speedways.
“Here at Daytona and then at Talladega it is very much about the potential of the car and the engine.”
In the final practice session on Saturday afternoon, Patrick set a lap registering at 196.220 mph around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. A lap that was nearly 1 mph faster than there teammate and car owner, Tony Stewart, who was second-fastest in the session.
“We came here this weekend for the race with another car than what we tested. We weren’t sure if we were going to bring the same one back or not because it ran so well. This other car was really good in the wind tunnel so we brought it.
“You always hope that the numbers from the wind tunnel translate to speed on the track and it did. I guess that is kind of the way that it has gone here at Daytona for us is that everything that we think is going to work a certain way works the way we expect it to. What should be faster is and that is not always the case.
“Everything just seems to be going really smoothly.”
In 54-year history of the Daytona 500, only three drivers have won the pole as a rookie; Loy Allen Jr., Mike Skinner and Jimmie Johnson.
“Everything that we do is to make sure that we do whatever we can to be on the pole tomorrow. That is what we all are shooting for,” said Patrick
“As I said earlier tomorrow is a whole other day. You’ve got to hope that the weather stays very consistent or perhaps better at the beginning when I’m going to go than at the end. All those things play into it.”
However, although Patrick is still considered a rookie by NASCAR, this will be her second Daytona 500 start if she’s able to qualify for the race. In her first start last year, she was taken out in a lap-two crash, causing her to finish deep in the running order.
While she may be a NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie, the career of Patrick has been well covered over the years as she competed in the IndyCar ranks, becoming the first women to lead at the Indianapolis 500 and the first woman to win a race in the series (Japan,2008).
“It would be really nice. It is a very big pole of all of them in the year for attention,” said Patrick as to what it would mean if she could capture the pole for the 55th Daytona 500.
“There are other races throughout the year that as a driver you feel maybe more pleased or proud of yourself to get. This one is a whole team effort. I understand I know I don’t give much credit to myself about driving and turning left. And that is true it’s very much about the car and the engine
” It is a team effort I understand that the driver can make tiny little differences out there, be smooth, and nail your shifts and being smooth with the wheel. The pole at Daytona is very much a team pole.”
While many see the No.10 Chevrolet of Patrick as the potential favorite to win the pole on Sunday, keep in mind that the fastest car in final Daytona 500 qualifying practice hasn’t won the pole since Jimmie Johnson in 2008.