As Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) approach the middle of the season, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams return to the sunny shores of Daytona Beach, Florida for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
With 16 races complete, the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team has earned five top-20 finishes, including a season-best 10th-place result at Dover (Del.) International Speedway earlier this month. Patrick has led a total of seven laps and is currently ranked 28th in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings.
When the season kicked off at Daytona in February, Patrick started the Daytona 500 from the 12th position and was scored as high as second near the midpoint of the race. With less than 80 laps to go, the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford was collected in a 17-car accident that ended the team’s day early and left Patrick with a 33rd-place finish.
While the season opener at Daytona didn’t end well for the No. 10 team, Patrick has experienced success at the track in the past, including a history-making performance at the 2.5-mile track in 2013. That year, she became the first woman to win a NASCAR Cup Series pole when she set the fastest time in qualifying for the Daytona 500. Patrick led twice for a total of five laps in that event, becoming the first female to lead NASCAR’s most prestigious race, as well as the first woman to lead a NASCAR race under green-flag conditions. She finished the race eighth, setting the mark for the highest finishing position ever for a woman in the “Great American Race.”
The following July, Patrick added an eighth-place finish in the Coke Zero 400. In 10 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Daytona, those two eighth-place efforts mark her top results at the track. Patrick has also started seven NASCAR Xfinity Series races at Daytona and scored her best finish of 10th in July 2011. She won the pole for the February 2012 event.
When the NASCAR Cup Series teams return to the high banks of Daytona for Saturday night’s race, the weather forecast for the beach town predicts temperatures nearing 90 degrees Fahrenheit. As the summer heat cranks up in Daytona, Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team will be ready to have a fun night at the track and hope to close out the race by celebrating a top finish in the Coke Zero 400 with an ice-cold Coca-Cola.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Your team was a part of the Daytona test earlier this season. Was there anything that was tried at the test that might come into play as you return?
“There wasn’t really anything racing-wise that moved the needle, but there were some things that were tried to make the cars lift off less easily if they get spun around backwards, so that was fine. It didn’t really change anything, so I wouldn’t be surprised if those kinds of changes were implemented for speedway racing. But, other than that, the racing was all very similar and, like we all said, there were five of us. You can go out in a pack of 15 and still not really know before the race, and then you get into the race and then you know. It’s pretty hard to really have a race-like scenario. You don’t even want a race-like scenario at a superspeedway unless you’re actually racing because it’s risky. There’s a chance for big accidents and that’s just silly in practice, but I think it was still somewhat productive – as productive as a superspeedway test could go.”
What is it about Daytona International Speedway that you like?
“I think I’ve always had the good fortune of driving for good teams that have good cars. I also think that my IndyCar background is very similar to the style of racing that the superspeedways bring to NASCAR. That was full-speed, flat-out, don’t-lift-if-you-don’t-have-to racing where you have to keep your momentum up and lots of big-pack racing. For me, that was a big comfort zone when I came over to NASCAR, that it was a lot like the IndyCar days of driving on mile-and-a-half speedways. It’s all about having an awareness of what’s around you, making good decisions and trying to stay out of trouble until the end.”
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.”