Patrick at ease with Sprint Cup team
So NASCAR’s GoDaddy girl is channeling of all things — a honey badger?
That’s the “mindset” for Danica Patrick, who is participating in her first Sprint Cup test here with Stewart-Haas Racing in preparation for her debut in the Daytona 500 (Feb. 26 on FOX).
“Last year, I think, somebody showed me this video of the honey badger, and the commentator on it was very, very funny,” Patrick said. “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.”
With Patrick’s move to NASCAR full time this season, she’ll have to be fierce. Yes, she can concentrate solely on stock cars now without the demands of splitting her time between IndyCar and NASCAR.
But she’ll still have to balance her time between driving the No. 7 Chevrolet full time for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series with 10 Cup races for SHR.
Earlier this week, Patrick participated in a test with JRM at Disney World, but her game plan over the next few days is to get the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet up to speed with her Cup crew.
“I heard (team owner/driver) Tony (Stewart) say he's going to let someone else go do it first with the new rear spoiler and spring,” Patrick said. “So that's fine with me. I said I think I want to be the one getting pushed so that I don't want to be the one that takes out my boss. That would be bad. I said you can push me first.”
Stewart offered Patrick a knowing eye — and agreed, “Yes, it would be bad.”
Stewart enlisted his former Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Greg Zipadelli to guide Patrick through the transition to Sprint Cup. Zipadelli was hired as SHR’s competition director in December. Zipadelli was instrumental in Stewart’s transition from open wheel to Cup in 1999. In Stewart’s first season in Cup, he scored three wins and finished fourth in the standings.
Although Patrick will run just 10 Cup races this season, Stewart’s hiring of Zipadelli came at the perfect time.
“It was a scenario where we were trying to get Zippy hired as a competition director, but it really was a perfect opportunity for us because it's hard to get a really good crew chief hired to only run 10 races a year in the first year,” Stewart said. “So to have somebody like Greg that has been working with Joey (Logano) and has been a crew chief for the last 13 straight years and he's brought, the last two guys he had both were rookies when they came in. So he's familiar with this and the process of getting a rookie adapted to the car and knowing what to do to make them comfortable.
“From a company standpoint, it made sense to have him since we had him in-house anyway to be able to apply him over there in a crew chief role and at the same time the practicality of it, of him having that experience of working with new drivers, makes it a smart decision for us to have somebody like him that can work with Danica and know how to go through those learning processes and how to help with that.”
Patrick made a point of publicly thanking Stewart for aligning her with Zipadelli. Her first impression left Patrick feeling “very comfortable and very fortunate.” And after two years of acclimating to NASCAR procedures and Daytona, Patrick appeared more at ease overall with her surroundings on Thursday. With the exception of a small adjustment to her safety belts or the throttle of the car, the 29-year-old racer was settling in nicely with her team.
“I'm really excited and I'm really happy,” Patrick said. “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 (Series for the) 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.”
For Patrick, the progress has been steady for the last two seasons in which she drove a part-time Nationwide Series schedule while also competing full time in the IndyCar Series. She posted her first NASCAR top-five last year, scored three top 10s, led 14 laps and improved her average finish by 10.6 positions. On Thursday morning, Patrick was eighth fastest on the speed chart with a lap of 191.473 mph.
Certainly, the move from the Nationwide Series to Sprint Cup will be challenging. But Patrick’s made it clear that she doesn’t “just want to be here, (she) wants to run well.”
And if Patrick struggles, she can draw on her inner honey badger.
“It’s a mindset,” Patrick said. “I even have a honey badger picture on my screen saver on my phone to inspire me. It takes what it wants.”