In a little more than one-and-a-half seasons of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing, Daytona International Speedway is still the high-water mark of Danica Patrick’s brief stock-car career.
Last year as a rookie, Patrick stunned the racing world by winning the pole for the Daytona 500. In that race, she ran competitively all afternoon, leading five laps and taking the white flag in third place. Although she got shuffled back to eighth on the last lap, it was still a successful outing.
Patrick then followed that excellent run with a still-respectable 14th in last year’s Coke Zero 400 at DIS.
Saturday night under the lights, she’ll be looking to build on those efforts, as she returns to Daytona in Stewart-Haas Racing Chassis 10-758, the very same one that was underneath her for her Daytona 500 pole run last year.
But that’s one of the few constants. Lots of other things have changed from a year ago
This time out at Daytona, knockout qualifying will be in place for the first time in a Sprint Cup race here. And, of course, thanks to the no-minimum-ride-height rule, the chassis setups are very different than they were a year ago.
Patrick’s familiar No. 10 SHR Chevrolet SS will have a different look this weekend, with the orange and pink colors of the Florida Lottery joining the traditional GoDaddy green, part of a two-race sponsor deal that also will include the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Without question, Patrick is optimistic that there will be speed in her car this week.
"It’s the same chassis we won the pole with at Daytona last year so, hopefully, it has some of that speed," she said. "It’s a good car and I like how it runs. We had the speed with it at Talladega but just couldn’t do anything in the final laps."
And there is the rub at Daytona and Talladega: While it’s important to have a fast race car, so much of where you finish depends on getting good drafting help.
"That’s what’s tough about restrictor-plate racing," said Patrick. "A lot of the time, it’s out of your control. I remember asking Jimmie Johnson after he won the 2013 Daytona 500 what his plan was and he said there really wasn’t any plan. It just sort of happens if you are in the right place. But, hopefully, we’ll have a good car and a good plan and make it work."
That said, Patrick is very comfortable at the venerable 2.5-mile, high-banked Daytona track.
"I always like going there," said Patrick. "It’s where my first stock-car start was in 2010 and I actually have a lot of experience there. I think (crew chief) Tony Gibson and the Florida Lottery/GoDaddy guys build really good cars. They know how to go fast. At the end of the day, you just need to be in the right place at the right time. A lot of it is out of your control. But I think we’ll be good and hopefully have a car that can compete and win."