Months of speculation turned to action Saturday and Sunday at Daytona International Speedway when Indy-car driver Danica Patrick took the first step in branching out to stock cars.
Patrick was one of 10 women at the ARCA Series test in preparation of that organization's season-opening Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona on Feb. 6. Patrick was the 12th-fastest driver in a JR Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet. The rest of her schedule will be selected Nationwide Series races this year. She talked about her part-time schedule in ARCA and NASCAR, as well as her long range plans. Here are excerpts of those interviews:
Q: What was it like to drive a 3,450-pound stock car at Daytona?
A: It was a big difference. The car moves around quite a bit. The car was definitely getting some action in the rear over the bumps. It was getting a little bit loose but I kept my foot in it and tried not chasing it too much with the steering.
Q: Were there other differences?
A: I felt most disoriented with how the heck am I suppose to get my stuff on because I can't get into the car with all that stuff on. I got to buckle my belts and I can't do it with my helmet on. So I get in the car and I've got to tuck my hair down the back of my suit and I can't do it because I'm strapped in. I'm just awfully confused. So I decided that I need to put everything on but my helmet and then get in the car. It sounds silly but it's logistics and logistics that I'm not used to.
Q: Why did you decide to sign with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports?
A: I think this really came together because of how competitive the car is and how good it is, but also the relationship with Bob Parsons and GoDaddy with Dale Jr. and (Rick) Hendrick. There were a lot of reasons why this came together. It was really for all the right reasons.
Q: Are there plans to expand your schedule to fulltime in NASCAR?
A: I mean, there's no real easy answer. The first step in this whole process is to get out there and just get going. See how it goes, see if I like the car. You know there really are no extended plans at this point. It's to give it a try and hopefully be competitive and have fun. Then beyond that we'll explore from there. But obviously being competitive is an important element.
Q: How do you define "fun?"
A: : Fun, you know, smile, enjoy it, want to do it. I think fun is obviously experienced differently from all people, but it's those primary things.
Q: Do you think some drivers might race harder against you?
A: : I guess that could be a concern. Let's face it, it's still racing and if people do it on purpose, they'll get black flagged and they'll be punished. So, you can't stop people from doing what they do, but there will be repercussions I'm sure.
Q: How difficult will it be to go back and forth from the IndyCar Series to NASCAR?
A: : I think that's yet to be found. Hopefully it will be an easy transition. I think one of the good things is that I've been to most of those tracks in IndyCar now, other than the new ones on the schedule, and probably will have a pretty good memory of how it's supposed to feel. I think we have yet to find out, but as I said, IndyCar is the priority and we'll make sure that I'm fully prepared to do that and go from there.
Q: Were there any snags in the negotiations that almost kept you out of NASCAR?
A: : It's just a complicated process, with two series and all this different stuff. It's just complicated so that's really the best way I can explain it.
Q: Dario Franchitti tried to make the move to NASCAR and failed miserably. Have you talked to him?
A: : I did ask him a few questions for sure. But he said he had fun. He said he enjoyed it. I think there were some things that could be learned from his experience. You kind of have to find out for yourself as well. I don't think you can always expect the same issues.
Q: Can you do both series full-time?
A: : Well, quite a few conflicting weekends. Complicated is an understatement for that. I think that it would be very nice to have the option. And then we'll cross that bridge when it comes. It would be very nice to have the option. It would be nice to do well enough and have the opportunity and we'll just see how it goes from there.
Q: What makes you feel like you can be successful in NASCAR?
A: : First and foremost, I'm going to be able to drive for a great team. There's the adequate and proper support. I do get nervous before anything that I do, [but] I do believe in myself. That's important. You have to be there. It's easy to get down sometimes if things aren't going well, but I always try and stay positive, and know that I can do the job. My Dad reminds me every now and again if I get down, that anytime I jump in a car, I always do a great job. It's about bringing everything together. I think that's really what we were able to do on the front end of this, to drive for a good team and have the right support, which is what every driver could hope for.
Q: How did you Indy-car owner, Michael Andretti, take the news?
A: : I think the best answer would come from him, really. But what I've heard him say is that he respects that I want to try something else. He remembers what it's like to be a driver and want to do that, and he supports that.