As Danica Patrick approaches her first race ever at Pocono Raceway, she absolutely acknowledges that she is still very much in learning curve mode. In fact, the rookie Patrick is just the second woman to race at Pocono, following in the steps of Janet Guthrie.
“I think that people have been really understanding to the fact that this is a learning curve and coming from IndyCar is a totally different place,” Patrick said. “I feel that’s been actually very publicized that there is going to be time needed to see that through.”
“That doesn’t stop me from getting mad or wanting more,” Patrick continued. “I think that’s just the nature of someone competitive.”
“There are a lot of times that my crew chief wants to remind me that I’m doing a good job and that this is the first year, not only in Cup, but my second full-time in stock cars,” Patrick said. “But I have high expectation levels.”
“It keeps me pushing,” Patrick continued. “I think the media has done a good job of education maybe the more casual fan that it’s a big transition.”
Patrick is definitely in learning mode at Pocono and expressed her gratitude for at least being able to test there recently. She was, however, disappointed not only that practice was rained out but qualifying as well.
“It’s a good thing we came last week and tested, that’s for sure,” Patrick said. “Obviously it doesn’t look like we’ll get out on the track (because of the rain).”
“Unfortunately that will leave it up to points to qualify,” Patrick continued. “Oh well, I’ve qualified worse than that on my own.”
“It’s not in the very back,” Patrick said of her qualifying position in P30. “It will just kind of leave it up to race runs tomorrow, which is not a bad thing when you’re coming to a track for the first time.”
“To some degree, you just have to learn for yourself what’s going to happen and ultimately what you need,” Patrick continued. “I definitely have good resources with my teammates and am talking with my crew chief about what to expect and what we need to be looking for and what tends to happen in the race here.”
“So, I’ll be asking those questions.”
While Patrick expressed her admiration for her boss Tony Stewart, owner/driver for Stewart Haas Racing, she does not necessarily lean on him for advice about the race track, even at one where she has never been like the Tricky Triangle.
“I don’t necessarily even really talk to Tony or anybody about how to drive it,” Patrick said. “I think that it’s very hard for someone to say well, you need to really carry a lot of speed.”
“What does that mean?” Patrick continued. “I have to get out on the track and feel what it means and then have a very specific question that I need answered.”
“Everyone drives differently, so it’s not like someone can just tell you how to drive the track.”
“I find that I have a lot better results through questions once I’ve actually done something and had a taste of what it is I’m doing,” Patrick said. “It’s very difficult to come to a place that you’ve never seen and ask the right questions.”
While Patrick may not rely on her boss for tips on how to master the three turns of Pocono, she does want to learn just how he masters the media.
“I just wish I could do an interview like him,” Patrick said. “He does such a great job.”
“It’s so funny,” Patrick continued. “He’s not afraid to say what he really thinks at all; even more than me.”
“And he is much more funny about it,” Patrick said. “He’s so much more adorable about it.”
“He has a huge drive to be fast and make the team better and make his car better and you feel that, for sure,” Patrick continued. “You also feel that passion.”
“I love him.”
One arena that Patrick does not consult in her NASCAR learning curve is the media itself. And she has learned some interesting lessons, especially through social media.
“Do I read the press?” Patrick was asked. “Only if a have a good weekend.”
“If I don’t, I don’t,” Patrick continued. “I read it too if there are a lot of pictures; pictures are my favorite.”
“Social media has given everyone a platform to speak their minds,” Patrick said. “But what that’s done is kind of put your finger on the pulse of what’s going to be written about.”
“If people don’t like me, they can at least respect my honesty.”
Most of all, Patrick continues her learning curve in the sport with the support of her incredible fan base. And as she makes her Pocono debut, she is most appreciative of the young ones, both boys and girls, who look up to her and her role in the sport.
“That’s sometimes the best part of your day is to hear a little kid say that they look up to you,” Patrick admitted. “I never, ever get sick of that.”
“Some of the kids are very open and they feel like they know you and they come and hug you,” Patrick continued. “It’s a nice feeling.”
“It makes it all feel kind of worthwhile on days that aren’t good,” Patrick said. “It helps to understand that it’s just one day and that it will pass and they like you because they’ve seen you do well and that they enjoy you as a competitor.”
“I’m learning about that perspective and it can really brighten up your day.”