IndyCar and Nationwide driver Danica Patrick visited the SI.com offices recently to talk about her foray into NASCAR and her participation in the DRIVE4COPD campaign.
SI.com: How do you feel after finishing up your first season balancing NASCAR and IndyCar?
Danica Patrick: I mean, I think all along we knew it was going to be a really challenging year. We knew it was going to be the hardest year of my career and it did turn out to be. A lot of it was just because it was humbling and there was a lot of not-so-high-up results and you have to find the good in those moments. But I learned a lot, I knew what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and I'm better for it.
But I think from a scheduling standout, from an energy standpoint, from that being a really big difference, I think we were prepared. We hired a full-time assistant and those kind of things and got a really good group of people together, a good team of people that take care of that stuff, so we hit the ground running for this year. Everything was in order, but it was just a matter of digesting a 20th-place finish.
SI.com: You actually notched your first top-20 finish at Homestead, which was ...
DP: Another hard-to-digest finish. But there's always positives. We qualified fifth.
SI.com: Do you feel that you've made progress, that you're more comfortable in the car now?
DP: Time is the only thing that makes the difference, really, and having good people around me. And I think I do. Tony Eury Jr. is a great crew chief, lots of experience and especially experience in the spotlight with being Dale Jr.'s crew chief for so long. Got a good spotter, got Dale Jr.'s spotter, just good people around me that can help teach me. We're fast forwarding the learning process as fast possible, but you can't learn it overnight and I know that. And I know that even after next year of doing some Nationwide that it's still not going to equal a full season in the Nationwide Series. After the end of next year I'll have done probably under 30 races for sure, so I still won't have put in a full season. It's just a learning process.
SI.com: What do you think is the biggest challenge you faced from moving from IndyCar to NASCAR or from juggling the two. Has it been scheduling, has it been getting comfortable with the car itself?
DP: Getting comfortable with the car. Getting comfortable with how the races go. Getting comfortable with acknowledging top-20 as being OK for now. I didn't really have a lot of expectation levels in the beginning because I really didn't know what to expect. All of my preseason testing was really good, so I thought top-10 or something, but I never got one of those this year. I think I could have a couple of times, but you gotta finish the race and you can't get taken out.
Once the first few races were done, I started to be able to have realistic expectation levels and goals and that also helped me to not get as down and mad, because when you come from running up front and doing well on the weekends, then go qualifying 37th or something like that and it seems shockingly bad and you just have to deal with it and move on and cut myself some slack, as I've been told to.
SI.com: How did you get involved with DRIVE4COPD? What is COPD and how has it personally affected you?
DP: COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It's emphysema; chronic bronchitis is kind of how people know of this disease. It deteriorates lung function over time, so there's no cure for it. It comes a lot from smoking, but it can come from environment, pollution, things like that, but mostly from smoking.
My grandma had it. She passed away when she was in her 60s, she was in a wheelchair, oxygen, oxygen mask 24 hours a day. She couldn't even talk, so really sad. My grandpa had to take care of her. I mean the stress, I can't even imagine having to make sure her oxygen tank doesn't run out of oxygen and the mask doesn't fall off her face. Definitely a deteriorating lifestyle over time and in the end completely.
Just trying to get the word out there for the signs, symptoms so people will do something about it. COPD kills more people than breast cancer and diabetes combined, so it's the fourth leading cause of death in this country. Of the 24 million that have it, half don't know it.
We're trying to get a million people screened by the end of the year. DRIVE4COPD.com, you don't have to register, you can just take the screener. We're trying to get as many people as possible. The other people who are doing it are Michael Strahan, Bruce Jenner and Patti Loveless. We've been taking the fun van with COPD all over the side of it all around the country to NASCAR races and concerts and fairs and things like that whenever there's a big group of people outside and getting people screened.
SI.com: Do you have any plans for the offseason? Anything you're looking forward to doing?
DP: Going on vacation. Go-Daddy Super Bowl commercials. Go-Daddy Christmas party. And then Christmas, which I haven't even thought about yet. So it's a really short offseason compared to every year, but it'll be even more valuable.