Nationwide and IndyCar driver Danica Patrick spoke to SI.com about her upcoming season, what she thinks about NASCAR's latest rules changes and who she thinks will take the checkers at Daytona.
SI.com: How was your offseason?
Danica Patrick: There was no couple of weeks off last year, but there was this year and I used it. My husband and I did a lot of things that we don't normally get to do, like have somewhat of a routine. We visited with a lot of friends, we went and watched a few movies and cooked around the house and enjoyed the holidays. We took a trip to New Zealand. So we had a really great offseason. Last year was a busy year, so it was needed.
SI.com: How do you feel heading into your first race of the Nationwide season, the DRIVE4COPD 300?
DP: Well, I'm a heck of a lot more prepared this time than last year. Having never raced a stock car before and having never raced at Daytona, I have a lot better idea of what to expect for this year and so I think it can only help. They also resurfaced Daytona as well and it should be a little bit easier for a person with my kind of experience level. I think it's a positive thing.
SI.com: How are you feeling about the new surface at Daytona?
DP: There's been a lot of really positive things about it and it's going to be a lot more like Talladega racing. It's Talladega nights, so I guess they're going to call it Daytona nights or Daytona days or something, so it'll be a good thing. I'm sure over time the track will get roughed up and summers and the winters will give it some character again, but it'll be in top form for this year.
SI.com: What's the biggest lesson you learned from Nationwide 2010?
DP: I feel like I've said this the last couple of years, but to try and not be so attached to the results that happen. I mean there was a lot of stuff I learned on track and I still continuously learn. The cars are different and it's all about identifying certain feelings and what that means and how to make the most of it and how to change the car so that it's better for you, so that's a learning process. But as an overall lesson it's just not to worry about the results and work really hard and find the positives in every weekend and keep smiling. It sounds like a dumb thing to say, but it's true.
SI.com: Did you feel like you received a lot of criticism last year?
DP: I felt like everyone was really positive. The announcers and everybody did a fantastic job of explaining what was going on out there and there were a few different races, like even Daytona, when I got collected in the crash, that could have been a great results. And then Las Vegas was another race that I was running pretty well and I was starting to figure it out and got crashed out with traffic. And Fontana, going back the second time, was a great day. I think I really had a great chance of finishing in the top-10 that day. Texas was another example. I really felt like I ran well at Texas, but I got taken out in the first five laps. You go a lap or two down and what are you going to do? My pace was there, but I wasn't in the right position, so there was a handful of races that I could have had a better result, for sure.
But those were the races that there was problems. You can be struggling with a car and, dammit, nobody can hit you and take you out and put you out of your misery. Bu those days that you're doing really well and the car feels good, something happens that takes you out of a good finish. That's why you can't be attached to the results so much because they aren't very representative, so I think everyone did a really good job of recognizing that and cutting me some slack and realizing what could have been last year.
SI.com: Did you get a lot of advice and feedback from your team last season?
DP: Along the way there are always positives and there are always things to take from the weekend that we liked. Whether it was learning how to pick up a side draft or setting up paces or qualifying well. Qualifying was really something I struggled with and then I qualified fifth for the last race. The positives were apparent as they went along and then it was just a matter of making them habit.
SI.com: What races are you looking forward to in Nationwide? IndyCar?
DP: Well in Nationwide, we're starting at Daytona, so I'm looking forward to that. It's a cool track, so much history and that leads me to my next one which is the Indy 500. There's nothing like it, it's my favorite race of the entire year. I've been lucky enough to come close to winning a couple of times. Maybe that'll happen this year. I've just always felt like it's a race I can win, so those two races I'm looking forward to. And I'm looking forward to going back to a lot of tracks in NASCAR this year, because Fontana was the only I got to go back to last year and it was just so much better the second time around. Hopefully that'll happen.
SI.com: DRIVE4COPD reached it's one millionth person screened. How does it feel to reach that goal and what are the plans to keep raising awareness?
DP: We knew we set a really lofty goal and to have accomplished it in the first year of the campaign was a really big thing for us. We're all really proud. So for this year, for the second year of the campaign, we want to reach over a million again and really try and get people to not only take the screener, but get involved and take action over their health. I think we can really accomplish those goals and the toughest part is getting the word out and once people start to recognize it, hopefully we can be the kind of thing that people recognize the pinwheel as much as they do the pink breast cancer loop. It's the fourth leading cause of death in this country and it kills more people than breast cancer and diabetes combined, so it's something that deserves a lot of attention and people need to know about it.
SI.com: Switching gears a bit, how do you feel about the new rule preventing drivers from competing for points in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series?
DP: I think that's a good thing. I can attest to the fact that it's really great from a learning and discipline standpoint to race with the Cup guys in Nationwide because they have so much experience. But it's also really hard and there's a lot of drivers that are really good out there and do really well, but can't manage to get the championship, but could win it if [the Cup drivers] weren't involved. I think it's a really good thing. I don't know how many Cup guys have done the Nationwide race, but there's always like at least 10 of them in there, so it makes it really challenging. So I think it's going to be a really good thing and it helps people really decide and commit. From a driver's standpoint, and I can understand the responsibilities to sponsors and events, maybe some of these Cup guys will get the chance to solely drive in Cup. It's a lot of work to do two races in one weekend. I did it one time last year and it is back and forth, back and forth. They want some relief too, you never know. If you want to go out and race, you can, and if the points was all you cared about, then you have an easy decision to make.
SI.com: Which drivers gave you the most advice during your first year in Nationwide?
DP: I think the one guy that raced in the Nationwide races that I leaned on a bit for advice was Kevin Harvick. He's a really great guy. I became friends with him and his wife. My teammate Aric Almirola is really cool. He came on at the end of the year and was announced as a full-time driver for this year. At Homestead, he was a couple laps down and he wasn't racing for a position and he was out there on my radio talking to me while he was in the car saying 'OK, follow me. This is the line you need to run, if you go here this will happen.' So really, really helpful. So there are a lot of drivers. Juan was really nice to me and Tony Stewart and there was a lot of really nice guys and I'm sure I'm going to leave some out. There was really no one I can think of that didn't have encouraging things to say and offer up their help. So I felt really, really lucky.
SI.com: Goals for this year?
DP: Well, I'd like to win some races in IndyCar. I would like to get up in that top-15 every weekend in NASCAR and maybe get up in that top-10 or so. But first thing's first, lets get consistently in the top-15 and go from there. So it's about winning for me in IndyCar and learning for me in NASCAR.
SI.com: And of course I have to ask, any predictions for this year's Daytona 500?
DP: I think the usual suspects are always out there. The guys from Hendrick and Roush really came on at the end of the year and Carl had a great finish to the year. Gibbs is always strong ... Daytona, especially now with the new surface is going have a little more luck playing into it, kind of like at Talladega where people are cycling to the front all the time. I'm sure there'll be an exciting end to the race.