Pedal down: Danica Patrick ready to get back behind the wheel
If anyone in NASCAR knows about long offseasons, it’s Danica Patrick.
A former driver for seven seasons in what is now the Verizon IndyCar Series, Patrick used to go nearly six months out of the year without stepping foot in a race car.
It’s much different, however, over in the world of NASCAR where "offseason" is the term used to describe the three short months between mid-November and mid-February.
So while Patrick’s fellow drivers in the Sprint Cup Series might feel like it’s been forever since they last strapped on a helmet — especially in light of NASCAR’s new ban on all private testing — Patrick really doesn’t feel like it’s been that long since the 2014 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Then again, even she has found herself getting the itch to put the pedal to the metal and go fast in recent days.
"I am not antsy," she said. "I used to drive Indy cars and we had really long offseasons. … But I found myself the other day driving to the airport driving very aggressively and doing things that were definitely illegal — and not just speeding. I felt like that was probably like the first surgence of thinking, ‘I need to take out this aggression somewhere right now.’ So I’m looking forward to getting back in a car.
"I’m not necessarily anxious, because it’s coming whether I like it or not, and it goes on for nine solid months, so I know what’s coming. So I’m definitely enjoying the time off before the pressure begins and it’s time to perform every single weekend."
In two seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing, the 32-year-old Roscoe, Illinois, native has recorded just four top-10 finishes and no top fives. Patrick finished one position worse in last year’s standings — 28th — than she did as a rookie in 2013, but she considers her final points ranking to be a bit misleading.
That’s because she finished in the top 10 in three races, compared to just one in 2013, while posting a career-best sixth-place finish at Atlanta and making commendable strides in qualifying performance and overall race speed.
"I think that ’14, while it wasn’t necessarily overall so great in the championship, it was a heck of a lot better in everything that I wanted, which was qualifying, race practice, getting up to speed better, restarts — all that stuff was way better," Patrick said. "So the stuff that I wanted to get better was, and now it’s a little bit of a sidestep here to get a new crew chief and have to kind of start over a little bit in some ways, but there’s also opportunity on the other end of it if there’s a way we can find to make things better."
Patrick and Knost didn’t exactly get off to a riveting start together — Patrick’s best finish with the former SHR engineer was 18th in the season finale — but the driver of the No. 10 Chevrolet has high hopes for the upcoming season.
"I’m optimistic about ’15," Patrick said. "I think we made progress in the three races we had. It started rough and still wasn’t perfect at the end by any means. But I think the race cars got better over those three races, and I think he made some really good race calls, so I’m optimistic. I’m excited. I think no testing is going to give us a slower start, but it’s just going to put that much more emphasis to the track time we have and making the most of it and really thinking about what’s going on with the race car and trying to develop our communication skills."
"It seemed like every time things were going well, something happened," she said. "Every time I was headed for like a really solid top 15, maybe top 10, maybe even better, it seemed like something happened. It could have been my mistake. It could have been a tire going down, it could have been a failure of some kind. It just seemed like that happened a lot, and I’m sure a lot of people have that story, but it just seemed to always happen. … I joked last year, ‘Nothing can happen when I’m running 30th, right? Nothing bad can happen on those days. It’s only when I’m running 12th that something bad happens.’ … It just shows how hard the Cup Series is and how much harder you have to work to get better."