Rookie Danica Patrick was one of the nine drivers to take to Daytona International Speedway as part of the Goodyear tire test. The test involved some single car runs, followed by some pack runs to see how the different tire compounds handled.
“Everything has been going smooth so far,” she commented during her media availability.
“We’re testing stuff here for when we come back in keeping the car attitude a certain way, working on speed, working on all kinds of little things – the balance in race runs and how some of those changes effect it. We’re always working.”
She was asked her thoughts on whether she feels that she will be quicker come July, however she put that off as being not important.
“I think it’s about the entertainment that we’re producing out there for the fans so I feel you’ll see a more exciting race in the summer just cause it’s hotter,” she said. “Maybe a little slippery so we may get a little uncomfortable out there and everybody got the feel the way this car performs in a pack, or a line for the most part. I found myself trying some things to see what happens when you take chances out there in the pack. I wasn’t in a position to take chances in the race. I felt doing it out there in practice was good and everybody will learn and then it will make the racing better.”
Learning how to make the moves late in the plate races is just one of the many things that Patrick has to learn to get better in the Sprint Cup Series. As a result, she has been doing a lot of testing, more so than any other year that she has raced.
“If I’m not testing, I know Scott Riggs went to Nashville with (crew chief Tony) Gibson and they ran,” she said. “So there’s been a lot more and there’s still a lot on the schedule and there’s a lot to schedule when each one of those official tests can be three days. You put a lot on the schedule. So there’s no official schedule whatsoever – it’s just a matter of when you have time and what you need to work on.”
She admits that sometimes it can be boring, but you have to pay attention.
“While it does feel easy, you have to respect the machine and the peed and the track and something can happen,” she said. “It’s a not a matter of the car feeling uncomfortable but a matter that something can happen and you need to be ready. That’s kind of what I think about when I’m out there and I’m trying to rest my (left) leg and look around. I think ‘you’re still doing 200’.”
One of the tests that she felt has paid off was going to Little Rock before the race at Martinsville Speedway. She said that they hit on something during the second last run, which carried over to the race at Martinsville earlier this month. It showed during the race as it marked a 12th place finish at a track that is known for being tough for rookies, and only her second top 15 of the finish. She finished eighth in the Daytona 500 after starting on the pole.
However, there is no secret that she has struggled on the intermediate tracks this year, finishing 33rd, 26th and 28th. However, she feels its a company-wide program as her and boss Tony Stewart had the same comments following the race at Texas Motor Speedway. Stewart currently sits 22nd in points with finishes of 11th, 22nd and 21st on those same tracks.
“We just need to work it out,” she said. “We need to go through the process of elimination of what it can be and work it out. We need to go testing and work on some platforms to see what we can to do to make the car faster and feel better. I think we need to work on both so I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s the new car, the different tires, data we’re getting from other people, sim programs – I don’t know what it is. If I did, we would fix it.”
It can be frustrating at times, but she says that can sometimes be good as it gets people working harder. However, sometimes that frustration does make her do things that d0n’t need to be done.
“I think there was no need for me at Texas to drive it home how uncomfortable the car was there where it was loose in, loose off, or just so tight in the middle you couldn’t do anything,” she said. “There was no point in driving it home anymore as its get to be enough after so long and it’s just a matter of putting it on the schedule to create a solution.”
There is a worry that with the schedule, the amount of testing and her off-track obligations that she will get burnt out. However, she doesn’t feel that will happen, having adjusted well from IndyCar’s schedule to NASCAR’s schedule.
“When I go home and if I spend a few days there, I get bored,” she said. “Really going home is about getting my hair cut and getting my facials and seeing my normal people. That’s pretty much what I do when I get home.”
Though with the races under her belt and the testing she has done, she says that she is 10 times better than when she went for her first test at Walt Disney World Speedway.
“I remember driving the car for the first time and I knew I liked it – first thing I pulled out of the pits,” she said. “I was having fun out of the get-go. I knew I wasn’t comfortable enough to look at my gauges. We were at Orlando and I was white-knuckling it. I didn’t even feel I had time to look in my rearview mirror to look at what was going on.
“Now going to Martinsville, I feel I can look around and relax my leg and that’s much smaller so comfort level comes along and I am definitely getting educated in what is going on with the car. I am starting to learn how to explain to Tony what he car is doing.
“I’m going to use an expression and say that I am 10 times smarter, but have so much further to go.”