Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) enter the weekend at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International on a bit of a hot streak after scoring consecutive top-15 finishes in the past four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.
Patrick’s finishes include: 15th at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, 13th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, 11th at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and 15th at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. The effort marks the first time in Patrick’s NASCAR Cup Series career that she’s finished inside the top-15 in four-consecutive events. And, in each instance, Patrick’s results have marked career-best NASCAR Cup Series finishes at each respective track.
As NASCAR Cup Series teams head to Watkins Glen for Sunday’s I love New York 355k at The Glen, Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team look to continue that streak of solid results.
In four previous starts at the 2.45-mile road course, Patrick’s best NASCAR Cup Series finish is a 17th-place effort she earned in August 2015. While Patrick has yet to finish inside the top-15 at the track, her average finish at the track isn’t too far off the mark at 19.8.
In addition to Patrick’s stock car experience at Watkins Glen, she’s made six IndyCar Series starts at the track. In that time, Patrick earned one top-10, four top-15s and six top-20 finishes. However, those events were run on the 3.4-mile long course at Watkins Glen and not the 2.45-mile NASCAR configuration.
As Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team return to Watkins Glen, they’ll be cheered on by a sizable contingent of sponsor guests this weekend.
Aspen Dental Management, Inc. (ADMI), which was founded in Syracuse, New York, is a dental support organization that provides non-clinical business support services to more than 600 independently owned and operated Aspen Dental practices in 36 states. Given ADMI’s close proximity to Watkins Glen International, more than 150 employees will be in attendance at Sunday’s race to cheer on Patrick, including founder and CEO Bob Fontana. Aspen Dental first partnered with Patrick in 2014 and this season the company is the lead sponsor of her No. 10 Ford Fusion for a double-digit slate of races.
On the heels of their recent success and bolstered by the support of the Aspen Dental guests, Patrick and the No. 10 team look to continue the hot streak they’ve been on this weekend at Watkins Glen and take home another top-15 run.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’re entering this weekend following a string of top-15 finishes. Where is your team at right now?
“I feel like we’re all positive and I feel like we’re communicating well. I guess, honestly, I had a lot of really unfortunate luck earlier in the year and should have had more top-10s or top-15s throughout the year for sure. So, I really knew in my heart that luck was going to shift, it was going to change at some point, it had to because it couldn’t keep going like it was. And I finally feel like it’s doing some of that. (The results have) come from not letting those weekends get to us and staying positive.”
There are only two road-course races on the NASCAR schedule, but they’re two of the most talked about and anticipated races of the year. Why is that?
“Road-course racing is something we don’t do a lot of and I think they are some fun races to watch because the cars don’t really handle very well. Our cars are like big buses trying to get around a racetrack and we’re sliding around, our brake zones are very long, tires go off and those are things that create passing opportunities.”
Is it a breath of fresh air to turn right and left, or do you have to psyche yourself up a bit to compete on a road course?
“Yeah, I feel like I have to psyche myself up a little bit in my approach about being aggressive and hitting the curbs and the ‘it doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be fast’ kind of attitude. But it’s fun. I mean, as long you can come out of the box with that and kind of start that rhythm, it’s easier to maintain all weekend, then.”
Talk about what makes Watkins Glen so difficult and how different it is from Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
“We only go to road courses twice during the season. I don’t think it’s terribly different from Sonoma in the sense that both are road courses and if you can get your car to handle, then things you learn can transfer between both tracks. Even before the repave, Watkins Glen had a lot more grip than Sonoma. You tend to slide around a good bit at Sonoma. As long as the car has good high-speed balance, then that leads to good things at The Glen.”
Talk through the keys to running well at Watkins Glen International.
“The first real tough turn where the car is definitely on edge at Watkins Glen is when you’re coming up the hill to the back straight. It’s critical because it leads onto the back straightaway, so you want to carry as much speed as you can through there. Having a car with a good high-speed balance is really important there. In general, it’s very important that the car turns. It’s kind of the same thing everywhere we go – the car has to turn, but it can’t turn so much that you can’t use it because you’re loose. Then you go through the bus stop and, if you have to wait on the front (of the car) a lot, then you can’t really get back to the throttle. That carries to a very long high-speed right-hand corner, so there’s a lot of exit that you can use if you’re sliding on whatever end that might be. But getting the car to turn through all of that is really what’s going to allow you to be able to attack the throttle.”
What is it about the road courses that you enjoy?
“I’m very used to racing on road courses. That’s how I grew up in go-karting. It’s what I did in Europe when I raced and it’s what IndyCar Racing really became before I left. There were three IndyCar road-course races when I started and, by the end, the majority of the races were on road courses – I think it was eight or nine races. So, I’m super familiar and super comfortable on road courses, but jumping into a stock car on a road course does feel a lot different than a lot of the other cars I’ve driven before on a road course. It still makes for great races because the braking zones are longer in stock cars, which allows more opportunities for passing.”
What is the hardest part about road racing?
“The hardest part of road racing is just putting a whole lap together. The hardest part of road racing is just nailing every corner and doing it consistently when it counts.”
If you are good at Sonoma, can you be good at Watkins Glen?
“Probably. I think these cars are such big, heavy cars, the difference between Sonoma and Watkins Glen is not that big of a deal. It still has corners and has to go left and right and then go quickly and turn quickly and get the power down quickly and do things it’s not used to doing on a normal, everyday weekend. There should be plenty of carryover from road course to road course. If you are struggling with rear-grip issues, you probably are going to not be penalized as much at Watkins Glen as you are Sonoma.”