When Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams visit Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Brickyard 400, (Back Home Again in) Indiana, the song performed prior to the Indianapolis 500 each year since 1946, will be a welcoming tune for Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
While Patrick was born in Beloit, Wisconsin and raised in the town of Roscoe, Illinois, when she returns to Indianapolis, it’s a homecoming of sorts after years of success at Indy as she competed in the Indianapolis 500 from 2005 to 2011.
“I think the best thing about coming back is that it feels familiar and it feels comfortable,” Patrick said. “We spent so much time there during the month of May that it becomes like a second home, almost. It’s not like the Indy 500 was a three-day show. You spent just about the entire month there. My parents live outside of Indy, as do my sister and her family, so it’s nice to come back.”
Patrick burst onto the scene at Indy in May 2005, when 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 historic 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 during the month – more than any other driver – including Pole Day and Carburetion Day.
Patrick’s practice lap of 229.880 mph on Pole Day was the fastest of any driver during the month and the fastest turned by any woman in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. During her qualification attempt, Patrick made an impressive save as her car bobbled in turn one on her first lap, earning her rave reviews for her car control by longtime Speedway observers. She ended up qualifying fourth, the best-ever starting position for a woman in the race.
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.
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 500.
While Patrick has earned history-making results at Indianapolis in her IndyCar career, she has yet to experience the same level of success at the 2.5-mile track in a stock car. In her first NASCAR Cup Series start at the track in 2013, she finished 30th and, in 2014, her day at the iconic track was cut short by rear-gear issues and she ended up 42nd. In 2015, Patrick was running 13th with less than 15 laps to go but lost considerable ground on the final two restarts and finished 27th. Last year, Patrick scored her highest stock car finish at the track when she took the checkered flag in the 22nd position.
In Patrick’s lone Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis in 2012, she finished 35th after getting caught up in an accident.
Patrick returns to Indianapolis this week on the heels of scoring back-to-back top-15 finishes. Riding that momentum, Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team hope her past success in the 500 will finally carry over to the Brickyard 400 so they can bring home a solid finish.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How special is Indianapolis Motor Speedway to you?
“I love going to Indy. I love driving through the tunnel and coming into the track – when it’s empty – just seeing the Pagoda. It’s just such a special place and I have so many great memories from there. No matter what car I’m driving, I always feel the track’s magnitude and just how special of a place it is.”
Compare driving a stock car at Indianapolis to driving an Indy car.
“It’s just about finding a balance with the car out there, which is no different in a stock car than in an Indy car. You’re just trying to find a balance. All you’re doing in an Indy car is trimming it out and, if I could have more downforce in these cars, I’d probably take it because, in an IndyCar, we learned very quickly that it’s about how much throttle you could carry around. The stock cars get very low in the corners, and that can be a little bit of a danger in an IndyCar, especially if you get just a little bit too low and get a little loose. So, that’s a little bit different, I suppose.”
Talk about what it’s like when you drive through the tunnel at Indianapolis and get ready for a race weekend.
“I think the best thing about coming back is that it feels familiar and it feels comfortable. I like seeing it. It feels very comfortable, very familiar. I just feel like I’ve had a lot of different experiences there that can help me and, again, it’s just a special place where I feel like, from the beginning, I’ve always really believed that you have to show this track respect and it will hopefully show you the respect back. I’ve always thought that and, especially in an Indy car, this place can bite you pretty big. I don’t think it’s too much different in a stock car, to be honest. It’s just a very familiar place. We spent so much time there during the month of May that it becomes like a second home, almost. It’s not like the Indy 500 was a three-day show. You spent just about the entire month there. My parents live outside of Indy, as do my sister and her family, so it’s nice to come back.”
How hard is it to drive a stock car at Indy and what do you need to turn a fast lap?
“In an Indy car, you don’t have to lift, which is obviously nice. But, on the other hand, you get to the point where you do have to lift a little bit and it’s always that breaking point of flat or not flat, so I think that that is quite challenging. But, in a stock car, you’re always lifting, you’re breaking, you’re sliding around a lot more without so much banking, so we need the banking. I have always thought flat tracks make for good racing in IndyCar and really banked tracks are good for racing in stock cars. I don’t know if (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) necessarily suits us as our best races of the year that we’ve put on, but I think it’s still a great race and I personally enjoy traditional passing because that’s my background. That’s my go-karting, road-course-racing background. So much of what I did growing up was setting up the pass, getting inside of them and them having to kind of give way because there are not two lanes, so I do enjoy that challenge.”