News & Media

Patrick still waiting for the other shoe to drop

August 24, 2012, Joe Menzer,

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Staying positive becoming more difficult as she prepares for Bristol double-duty

Danica Patrick is past the point of waiting for the other shoe to drop on her NASCAR season.

Less than one week after running over a shoe that appeared to contribute to her demise on an afternoon when she might have had a winning car at Montreal, a weary-looking Patrick met with the media early Friday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway. Her media availability was scheduled for first thing because she had a busy day ahead of her -- practices for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races, plus qualifying for both Nationwide and Cup races and then, under the Friday night lights, the Food City 250 Nationwide race.

"I can't tell you how many people said after Watkins Glen [a week earlier], 'I can't believe how much bad luck you've had.' And then I hit a shoe. I don't feel like it can get a lot worse."


"Obviously we're very busy with the Cup and the Nationwide," Patrick said. "It will be nice to sleep in until 3 o'clock or whatever it is I can sleep into [Saturday]."

Then she will have to get right back to work. After driving the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports in Friday's Nationwide event, she'll be behind the wheel of the No. 10 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing in Saturday night's Irwin Tools Night Race on the Cup side. It will be her fourth Cup race of the season, but her first since the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 27.

Patrick finished 30th in that race, and it's her highest Cup finish of the season. She finished 38th in the season-opening Daytona 500 and 31st at Darlington in her other two Cup starts.

But as her boss at Stewart-Haas Racing often likes to point out, it's not about where Patrick finishes in her Cup races this season. It's more about if she finishes.

"We've got 500 laps here [Saturday] night," Patrick said. "It's twice the distance of our Nationwide race. So finishing all the laps is the most important for me -- getting that seat time and trying to get a feel for how the track changes, working on the car throughout the race. Just getting used to the distance. I've always said that there is a rhythm to a race -- and to get a feel for that, you've got to do the whole thing.

"Tony picked what he thought were the toughest races of the year for me to run. So keeping that in mind, finishing all the laps will be the goal for [Saturday] night."

Patrick has had loftier goals on the Nationwide side this season, but has encountered difficulty in reaching them while running her first full-time NASCAR schedule. She has one top-10 in 22 starts -- an eighth at Texas in April -- and currently sits 11th in the points standings.

But she's shown flashes of potential, leading 14 laps in the July race at Daytona and 20 last Saturday at Montreal before someone threw the shoe on the track that may have derailed her chances of winning. After running over the shoe, she eventually developed mechanical problems that relegated her to a 27th-place finish.

"Who throws a shoe? I mean, really?" said Patrick, borrowing a line from an Austin Powers movie she said has been repeated to her often over the past six days. "I think it was dark, with a light-colored sole. It looked really funny on the video. It looked like it disappeared [underneath the car].

"But it sucked."

It seems that Patrick adopted the stance of having to laugh about it to keep from crying.

"It was disappointing. We were looking forward to having a shot to win," Patrick said. "That happened when we were in the lead. Whether it was what caused the [mechanical] problem or not, I don't know. But it definitely was what ended up leading toward the end of our day.

"We were just looking to have a good result. I can't tell you how many people said after Watkins Glen [a week earlier], 'I can't believe how much bad luck you've had.' And then I hit a shoe. I don't feel like it can get a lot worse. I don't know if anyone's ever hit a shoe before -- but it just seems like a very weird situation."

Danica Patrick

2012 Finishes
30 or worse73

It wasn't the first time she's encountered a weird situation this season, which began with her JR Motorsports teammate, Cole Whitt, inadvertently wrecking her in the first Nationwide race of the season at Daytona. She also had a blown engine finish her day early in Fontana and additional accidents take her out prematurely in five other events, including the Lap 2 melee at Watkins Glen.

"I'm ready for it to turn. I'm ready for some good luck. I'm ready for some good results," she said. "The team has been working extremely hard. That doesn't change whether we finish first or last. But it's nice to get rewarded with a good finish sometimes, and I think we're all looking forward to that.

"I can't remember ever having this much bad luck. Ever. I don't ever remember feeling like I just can't seem to catch a break for so long, and it's such a big waste sometimes. So I don't know. We'll have to see."

That's the same stance she's adopting toward her Cup experience this weekend. She admitted there are times when she wonders if Stewart's decision to have her run the more difficult Cup venues to prepare for her 2013 full-time foray into that series will eventually pay off.

"I don't think knowing whether it's going to beneficial at this point is really possible. The part where we'll know if it is beneficial will come next year when either I feel much more comfortable coming back to those tracks and have better results, or something like that," Patrick said.

"At this point in time, it's about gaining the experience. And what's the saying? Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger? I'm sure it will help in the long run. But until we get to next year and know how I feel, we won't really be able to decide whether these races helped or not. As long as I can keep my head up and stay confident, and stay looking forward and stay upbeat, I think they will serve that purpose. There is always that chance that these are humbling moments, especially being at the tough tracks that they are and the tough races that they are. I've just got to focus on staying positive."

Staying positive no doubt was difficult to do after Patrick struggled mightily during both of Friday's two Cup practices. Her top lap ranked 47th of the 47 cars that participated in both practices, and her top lap of 117.732 mph in the final practice was more than 5 mph off the pace set by Joey Logano, who was fastest.

Stewart said he expected the former open-wheel star to struggle, and that, in a way, was the point behind his decision to put Patrick on the toughest tracks in NASCAR during her limited Cup schedule.

"The biggest thing is she's going to have to try to run these tracks eventually anyway," Stewart said. "This is a scenario this year where she's not racing for points and it's more of a learning year, so you want to take her to the hardest places first to at least give her that opportunity to gain some experience before she has to come back to them next year when she's running for points.

"It's not meant to be easy. It's supposed to be hard. It's supposed to be frustrating. You're supposed to leave here scratching your head, wondering. But that's part of the learning curve of joining this sport. I'm sure at the end of the year she's going to hate me, but when she comes back to these track next year, it's going to make sense to her why we brought her here this year."

Patrick certainly was feeling positive while leading the Nationwide race at Montreal -- before the errant shoe dropped in front of her.

"Whenever I'm leading or running really well and feel like I've got a chance to win, I always feel really calm," she said. "I always feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be, and I feel a sense of focus. But most of all, I feel calm. That's how I felt. ... It's a really peaceful view when you're out front. There are still mirrors, but it's really peaceful when you look out and there's no one in front of you. So I felt good.

"It was just a bummer of a weekend, the way it turned out. That's all right. We made a good showing. We ran well all weekend and led a lot of laps, had a lot of good restarts. We'll just take that and move on."