The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend has long been a special day for racing enthusiasts around the world. Considered by many as the “Greatest Day in Motorsports,” it starts with the Grand Prix of Monaco, where Formula One drivers navigate through the streets of Monte Carlo. That’s followed by the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the day closes with the Coca-Cola 600, the longest race on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
Racing on Memorial Day weekend is nothing new for Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Code 3 Associates Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), as she’s done it at the professional level for many years. For seven years, Patrick competed in the 500-mile race at Indianapolis, and on Sunday Patrick will make her sixth start in the Coca-Cola 600.
In the seven years Patrick competed in the IndyCar Series, nowhere did she perform better than in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” In May 2005, she stunned the world by leading three times for 19 laps and finishing fourth in her first “500” – becoming the first woman to lead laps and score a top-five finish in the iconic race.
She set numerous records during her Indy 500 debut and set the tone early when she posted the fastest lap on the opening day of practice. She went on to set the fastest practice lap five times throughout the month, including Pole Day and Carburetion Day. On race day, with 11 laps remaining in the 200-lap event, Patrick blew past leader Dan Wheldon and held the point until lap 194, when she was forced to slow down in order to conserve fuel to make it to the finish. Her efforts earned her Rookie of the Year honors.
All told, Patrick scored six top-10 finishes in seven starts at Indianapolis and qualified 10th or better five times. Her third-place result in 2009 is the best finish ever for a woman in the history of the Indianapolis 500.
For the sixth consecutive year, however, Memorial Day weekend will be different for Patrick, as she’ll watch the Indy 500 on television as she prepares to race in the Coca-Cola 600.
When Patrick hits the track this weekend, her No. 10 Ford will carry the colors of Code 3 Associates, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to providing professional animal disaster response and resources to communities, as well as administering professional training to individuals and agencies involved in animal-related law enforcement and emergency response. Its mission is accomplished through hands-on animal rescue and care operations during disaster events in the United States and Canada, and through certified animal welfare training seminars, which include animal cruelty training for investigators.
While Patrick’s best result in the Coca-Cola 600 is a 21st-place effort she earned last May, her best finish at the track is an 11th-place result she scored last October in the Bank of America 500.
Entering Sunday’s race, Patrick and the No. 10 Code 3 Associates Ford team hope to improve on last fall’s performance at Charlotte and close out the night celebrating the “Greatest Day in Motorsports” with an ice-cold Coca-Cola.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Code 3 Associates Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race on the NASCAR schedule. Do you notice those last 100 miles?
“The Coca-Cola 600 is obviously our longest race, but it very much depends on how the car feels. If the car feels good and you’re racing hard and trying to have a great finish at the end of the night, that’s one thing. I’ve also been in some where there’s crash damage and you just can’t get out of the way fast enough and those last 100 miles seem like 400. So, it very much depends on the state of your race. Hopefully, it feels like it just (snaps fingers) whizzes right by this year.”
What are your overall thoughts about racing at Charlotte?
“I like Charlotte. It’s really nice for the crews because it’s a home race for them. They get to sleep in their own bed and a lot of their family and friends are there. So, you want to give them a good performance. It’s fun for me at Charlotte because a lot of the crews have young kids, so it’s fun to meet them and see them around the hauler during the race weekend. It’s just a bit of a different experience than a lot of the tracks we go to.”
How much do you pay attention to the goings-on with the Indianapolis 500, even though it’s a few hours before you have to go racing yourself?
“I definitely set up my race day for the Coca-Cola 600 to accommodate the Indy 500. I like to watch the beginning and, of course, I like to watch the end, so usually I’ll pop on out for a couple meet-and-greets during the middle of the race, but I do really like to watch it all. I have such great memories of the Indy 500 and that’s why I also like going back to Indy in a stock car.”
Do you have any desire to go back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an Indy car to compete in the Indy 500?
“I feel so lucky to have competed in the event with great teams and some luck every now and again that I almost won the Indy 500 a couple of times and was always very competitive. I don’t want to do anything to take away from that just to participate. I don’t race to just participate, so if I felt like I had an opportunity to win, you never know. But I’m not necessarily seeking that out, so it would just have to kind of fall in my lap, I think.”
Last year and again this year, there is a real reason to more than just tune in to the F1 race in Monaco. Your team owner Gene Haas will again be a part of the event with Haas F1 Team. How much do you pay attention to Monaco before you switch gears to Indy, and then finally switch gears to the Coke 600?
“Usually Monaco comes on at home when I’m making breakfast in the morning because we’re racing in Charlotte, and since we all pretty much live here, you end up watching that at home during breakfast. Then you go to the track and have lunch and watch the Indy 500 and then you have a quick bite before you go out for the Coca-Cola 600. We watch them all. We might not catch every lap, of course, but we watch them all.”
Looking at Memorial Day, what’s that day like for you as you prepare for the Coca-Cola 600?
“For race day, I like to carve out as much time as I can to watch the Indy 500. It’s an amazing event. I can still put myself there and feel it when I watch the race. I like to watch and see how the drivers I know are doing. It’s a great race. It’s just part of tradition. I do have to do meet-and-greets and stuff like that on race day, but I usually try to schedule them early, or during the middle of the race, so I can watch the end, for sure.”
How challenging is the Coca-Cola 600?
“A lot is made about the Coca-Cola 600 being another 100 miles longer and it being a long race. We have a lot of races that are already 500 miles long and we have a lot of races that go from day to night, so it’s really not unfamiliar territory. It can make a bad day worse if the race is even longer. If the car is good, then the day is easy. It never feels all that long and, hopefully, it’s not super-hot out. Other than that, it’s just another race, honestly. But, it is a big event that you want to do well at.”