Danica Patrick talks Indy's centennial, future in NASCAR, more

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MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- There is exactly one month to go until the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, which means Danica Patrick is counting down the moments until she gets yet another chance to try to become the first woman to win the historic race.

She's already made history there, becoming the first female ever to lead laps during the 500 and nearly won the race as a rookie in 2005. In 2009, she finished third -- the highest ever for a female driver. Patrick made NASCAR history this year when she finished fourth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas -- her highest stock car finish, and the highest for a female in NASCAR since Sara Christensen's fifth-place finish at Pittsburgh in 1949.

But nothing, absolutely nothing, would top a win in the world's most prestigious race.

Indy practice doesn't start until May 14, with Pole Day on May 21, and Bump Day set for May 22. Race Day is May 29 -- exactly one month from today. Meanwhile, Patrick will hit the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil on Sunday for the final road course race in the series. Indianapolis is the first oval track race for the drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series, something she's looking forward to because she's a better oval driver than road course racer.

SI.com caught up with her before she departed for South America and got her views on her hopes for this year's Indy 500, what she learned from getting booed there last year and more.


SI.com: Can you pinpoint why you do so well at Indy?

Danica Patrick: "All I can say is I've always respected the Speedway even on laps years ago when you would be flat out and driving by yourself and be in race trim and have too much downforce to run by yourself. I remember thinking to myself it was easy, but I had to remind myself don't think that, focus on every corner, this track can bite you, anything can happen, hit your marks every single corner. Just know that it is the Speedway -- the fastest track we race on and one little mistake can put you in the wall. I have always had a lot of respect for the track and have always enjoyed driving it. I think it is an important track to have a car that you are confident in underneath you. It's such a flat track that one little mistake is costly. If you don't know where you can put your car and how confident you can be in it or what you can do with the throttle or the steering wheel you are liable to make a mistake at some point.

"What I learned early on there and partly because I had a good race car and had something that did everything I wanted it to do is you can't drive around the car there. If it's not good, it's not good. If it doesn't feel right you can't just pound it around and try harder. You won't be successful every single lap and every single corner. You have to get the car right and trust your instincts there. You don't have to get the car loose to show your team and engineer the car is loose. If you can't keep your foot down going into the corner than just come in and fix it. Those are the things that I have done there and part of what helps me do well there. It's a long race, too, and you have to stay focused for four hours."

SI.com: How important is it to you and any driver to be participating in the 100th Anniversary of the Indy 500?

DP: "I can say you sure hope that you do well on the 100th Anniversary. Every year it is a huge event and hopefully everybody has their ducks in a row to advertise properly and get as many people to watch the race as possible, not just because it's the 100th Anniversary, but because it's a great race. The 100th Anniversary is a platform for us to tell the story and for people to be interested in the race and the broadcast and for people to be interested in for the rest of the month. It sure would be nice to have the 100th on the base of the trophy."

SI.com: Last year you were booed after your qualification attempt when you criticized the team for the setup of the car and booed again in driver introductions on Race Day. How much did that affect you and serve as a wake-up call?

DP: "Obviously it was not the right thing to say. I know that. It was a comment of criticism and blame and nothing anyone wants to hear. That is not what you want to hear from someone that you look up to and cheer for. You want them to be a positive, excited person. That is not what I was that day. I learned then, and continue to learn, that people are always listening to you, people are always watching and even if they are not, you need to act like they are because you never know. It was important for me to put my best foot forward and it was a moment of some emotion. I can't say that I'll never be emotional again, but the way I let it out was not good."

SI.com: Is May your favorite month because you get to go to Indianapolis?

DP: "We have Indy, Texas, Milwaukee and Iowa that is a pretty good month. I've always enjoyed short tracks. Indy is by far my favorite event of the whole year and Texas is a track where I had a pretty good race last year with good results. Things are looking up. It doesn't mean I can't have good results on a road course, but it's nice to go to an oval and qualify where you feel your speed really is and get to work. My mood is dictated a lot by how my racing is going and that means I'll be in a good mood the rest of next month."

SI.com: Sunday is the last road and street course race for two months. Are you glad?

DP: "That's true and what it has really come down to is this year in practice I've been a lot better off than I was last year. I'm at least mid-pack in practice, but I'm not very good in qualifying. Then the race comes and I'm fine and sometimes I have really good races and I'm passing cars with fast laps, but the elements of qualifying for me I'm not great at it. I know that and I'm going to do what it takes to be good at it. If that can change I feel like that is the missing piece.

"Other than that is where you see the big difference at qualifying on ovals. For the most part, it's easier, you put your foot down and go for that. If you were going to trade you would trade and have worse qualifying results on the ovals and better on the road courses because you have time on the ovals to make up position. On the road courses there is not much you can do. You have to rely on chance and risk and strategy and those things don't always play out for you. On the ovals, if you have a good car you'll go to the front. Qualifying is not so great on the road courses for me so the short answer if I'm happy to be going back to ovals? Yes."

SI.com: The street course at Sao Paulo is the fastest street race of the season featuring a mile-long straight that allows more drafting and passing. How unique is that compared to the other street course races?

DP: "I am looking forward to it because it was a good race last year. I actually thought I would finish pretty well. Last year got off to a bad start. There was a first corner accident and we were told those who make the corner will be in front of those who bypass the corner. Well, that didn't happen. When I got on the radio to say, 'Hey, what the hell is going on? Put those cars behind me.' Then you are behind those cars that finished third, fourth and fifth. I tried to be brave when it was raining out and almost made it back to the pits but I spun and was two laps down. It was not great, but in the race I was competitive, I was fast and I was passing some people. If everything went well it would have been a great day. I do look forward to going back for that purpose and that reason that there will be the ability to pass.

"I think any time you are on a street course things will happen. Like at Long Beach, accidents happen, there are mistakes and there are less room for error on the street circuits unlike the permanent circuit road courses where you can be off track a little bit and keep driving and come back on and not hit a wall. There is less passing, less accidents and less yellows. Between that and the fact there is a mile-long straightaway where you can get a draft and pass people it makes it real exciting. I wish they designed all road courses to have an element like that in it."

SI.com: Andretti Autosport has been accused of being a dysfunctional team. Is that accurate?

DP: "The team has lost virtually all of its base drivers from when the team was extremely successful. Dario Franchitti has left and Bryan Herta has left and Tony Kanaan is gone now and Dan Wheldon left. Marco Andretti has been there since 2006, but other than that it is different drivers throughout. What they had back in those days was very special. They had amazing chemistry, they all got along, they were all the same age and were almost buddies. I get along with my teammates fine today, but it's not that level of friendship they had back then. They were a real special group. It's like having a great football team together and they win a championship and sometimes it's because they have chemistry and are a special team. That is what they had here.

"It's a pretty high standard to have. I think we have a good group of drivers now. Everybody gets along very well and this is an opportunity to get back to some of the fun teammate stuff and try to jell a little bit. It's something you are always trying to achieve and it doesn't happen all the time. Every team has its challenges and we are no different."

SI.com: Contrast that to your NASCAR Nationwide team with Aric Almirola and Josh Wise at JR Motorsports.

DP: "Aric is a wonderful teammate. He helped me from the first day he drove last year when he was not a full-time driver. He was very helpful and makes me always feel like I'm on the same level. He doesn't come and give me lessons; he comes and talks to me about the car. He wants my opinion on the car and what it is doing. Oddly enough, Josh was in the next garage stall next to me for the first four races I did this year. I saw Josh all the time. He's a nice guy as well.

"We all get along really well. Tony Eury, Jr. is just kind of a cool guy. He is kind of funny. Pops, his dad, who does the 88 car is a little more serious and gets a little more moody, but he is also funny as well. It's a good group of people."

SI.com: In your heart are you still an IndyCar driver?

DP: "Yes, absolutely. That's what I'm doing now and that's what I've been doing for seven years."

SI.com: With your contract up in both series this season, some want you to switch to NASCAR, others want you to remain in IndyCar but is the most logical step a continuation of competing in both?

DP: "Yes, that is a viable option. All the options are open. The answer is yes."

SI.com: Is there still enough exposure in IndyCar racing that can benefit yourself and the rest of the series?

DP: "We're the same race cars doing the same kind of racing throughout the year so it would be great if people paid attention the rest of the year like they do at Indy. But the other events don't have 100 years of history, they don't have the stories, there are missing elements.

"The answer is no. I would love if the series got more attention the whole year. I'm not the solution maker to that. All I can do is drive my best, put on a good show, you can't do it every weekend, but hopefully you do throughout the year and help get new people interested. But that's something we as a series have tried to achieve for years is how to generate more attention for the whole year -- not just Indy."

SI.com: Can you describe how much more exposure you get when you run a Nationwide race?

DP: "Look at the ratings and see the difference. The St. Pete race was up in ratings (1.6) and that was great. The Nationwide races are between a 1.2 to 2.0. The rest of the IndyCar races on cable get about a .3 or .4 and that's not good. The series needs to make those numbers bigger because that is what sponsors look at when they are looking at sponsoring a driver or a team. If you don't have viewership numbers, then you don't have the sponsors, then you don't have the sponsorship money, then you don't have the cars and you don't have the event. It's a chain reaction.

"Eyeballs are important."