Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) travel to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway – a track where anything can happen –for Sunday’s Geico 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
Talladega has long been considered a bit of a wild-card race, where a driver’s fate is not entirely in his or her own hands. It is one of only two racetracks on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit where restrictor plates are used. A restrictor plate is a device installed at the air intake of an engine to limit its power in an effort to reduce speeds, increase safety and help provide an equal level of competition. The horsepower-restricted engines require drivers to draft together, side-by-side, at speeds approaching 200 mph.
As a result, superspeedway events often produce wild, unpredictable racing.
“The cool thing about superspeedways is that anybody can win,” Patrick said. “It’s a toss-up, what’s going to happen.”
And that toss-up always includes the distinct possibility of the seemingly inevitable “big one” – a multicar accident that typically eliminates multitudes of drivers from the event. This type of racing leaves teams wondering what it will take to survive the “big one” and make it to victory lane at the end of the day.
While Patrick has set records at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway – the other restrictor-plate superspeedway on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule – she’s yet to find the same level of success at Talladega. With eight prior starts at the track, her career-best finish is a19th-place effort she earned in October 2014. Last year, a late-race accident left her with a 24th-place result in May and, when the series returned to the track in October, she finished 20th.
Patrick enters this weekend at Talladega fresh off of an 18th-place result at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. The effort marked the team’s second-best finish of the season and first top-20 result since the March 5 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
As the NASCAR Cup Series returns to Talladega this weekend, Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team will be ready to survive the “big one” and go for the win on Sunday.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’ve always liked going to Talladega. Why is that?
“The fans really make that place. The campgrounds, all that stuff, make it one, big party. You see how much fun the fans are having and that makes it fun for us as drivers. It’s just a unique place. The sheer size of the facility is amazing. I liked it from the first time I went there and, hopefully, we can have a good run and a good finish. The cool thing about superspeedways is that anybody can win. It’s a toss-up, what’s going to happen. On top of that, SHR’s superspeedway cars are really good.”
Describe the intensity of restrictor-plate racing.
“It’s super easy to drive around the track flat-out by yourself. It’s not hard at all. When you put all of the other cars around you, it’s not necessarily about how the car feels on the track, although that can be an issue, for sure, at times. It’s more about what everyone else is doing around you. You’re constantly looking at what’s happening in front of you. You’re also looking at what’s behind you. Probably more important than what’s happening in front of you is what’s happening behind you – who’s coming, who’s following you, who’s helping you move forward. There have been plenty of times that I’ve gone to the bottom and complained, ‘Where’s my help?’ It seems like I’ll slot in on the bottom line and then everyone behind me disappears. You really have to have people behind you, pushing you. The race is constantly evolving and you and your spotter have to be on it. It’s a big race for spotters, so having a really good one that you trust is very important.”
What are three words that describe restrictor-plate races?
“Three words that describe plate racing would be: crazy, fast and risky.”
What is your favorite part of going into the Talladega infield?
“My favorite part about going into the infield at Talladega is seeing things you’re not supposed to see. I mean, it’s a crazy party and I feel like those are the kinds of things that keep people coming back. It’s the atmosphere and the whole package of the weekend – not just the racing – but the parties, having fun and making memories.”