CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Starting her second full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and third season overall, Danica Patrick is feeling the pressure.
At the 32nd annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour, the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet admitted the pressure comes from all directions.
“There is always pressure for sure,” she said. “I have the pressure I put on myself with what I think I can do, the pressure of wanting to perform from my team that works hard and the sponsors.”
Patrick won the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500 and her eighth-place finish in the race was the best ever for a female driver. It was, however, her only top-10 finish of the season. She ended up 27th in the Sprint Cup Series points, ahead of only David Ragan (who did win a race at Talladega), Travis Kvapil and David Reutimann among drivers who competed in all 36 races.
Patrick hopes the addition of former NASCAR champion Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick to go along with three-time champion Tony Stewart at the Stewart-Haas Racing team will help her become more competitive in the Sprint Cup Series.
“There are my teammates and they’ve been helpful already,” she said. “Having Tony out the car (with a broken leg last season), he was able to help me in different ways. With the new people, I feel I have so much to learn from those guys. It’s my job to use those resources to get better, faster.”
The 30-year-old driver has endured her share of criticism for not finishing better in top-notch equipment. Ryan Newman, a teammate of hers last year, made the Chase and won the Brickyard 400. It’s also less than three years since team co-owner Stewart won his third NASCAR championship.
For Patrick to have just one top-10 finish in 46 career starts, she understands the criticism.
“I feel the media has been great with me,” she said. “The other competitors have been good to me. I’m like any other driver where I need to prove myself and earn the respect of everyone around me, whether it be the media, the drivers or the owners. It’s a process and it’s just beginning.”
She is still relatively new to stock cars after building her reputation in Indy Cars where in 2008 she became the first woman to win a race. She also posted a career-best finish for a female driver at Indianapolis with a third-place in 2005, and she posted six straight top-10 finishes in the Indy Car point standings.
Her immediate goal in NASCAR is to be more on par with some of the top drivers.
“I’ll be happy at the end of the year if we can start racing competitively,” she said. “You want to be up there with good drivers, up in the top-10, the top-15. Then all of a sudden, you’re really dicing it up in a situation where big things can happen.
“After the end of 2012, I was thinking we’re not going to have a problem getting into the top 20 this past year. Then, we struggle to get there. It shows how competitive this series is, how hard it is and how hard you have to push. You just have to keep pushing so hard, not only yourself, but the people around you to make the cars better. It’s a never-ending process.”
Patrick now lives in the Charlotte area and tries to visit the race shop as much as possible. While her ability to adapt to stock cars have been questioned, no one questions her desire.
She sees the ability to understand the race car better as her biggest improvement as a NASCAR driver.
“It’s one thing to say a car is loose or tight, but it’s another think to say why,” she said. “As a team, we learned how to go about our weekends more productively. We had the trust we were prepared instead of jumping around with set-ups. Instead of getting upset, we need to keep a level head and to be methodical. That leads to better qualifying, better practice and a better race.”
This Sunday, Patrick will once again be one of the most recognizable figures in American culture as a featured model in her sponsor Go Daddy’s Super Bowl ad. There isn’t a bikini-clad Patrick in front of the camera this time around. Instead, the petite driver wore a muscle suit designed by Legacy Effects, a Hollywood costume company.
The suit wasn’t the most comfortable to wear for the seven hours of filming and Patrick said the way it tightly fit around her wrists made her hands feel like sausages. Still, she is once again in a prominent spot.
“Go Daddy does a good job about making the Super Bowl fun every year,” she said. “Bodybuilder was definitely an exciting one. I’m pretty much up for whatever. They’ve done some creative things, but this one was the most interesting.”