Teleconference: Danica Patrick

2005 Rookie of the Year winner Danica Patrick was this week's guest on the Indy Racing League teleconference as the series gears up for the season-opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 26.

Q: How are things different from last year in your preparations and as you prepare for the season and approach the season?

DANICA PATRICK: Not really any different. I think the same sort of attitude and the same sort of optimism and hope and everything, it's the same as last year. I wanted to do well last year, and I want to do well this year.

I kind of, just the same as last year, will take each individual event for what it is. If we go to Texas this year, I'm off the pace, I'm not going to go, "OK, I should win this one." It's not realistic in a certain situation. You just have to take them individually. I would imagine a lot of people are the same way as I am, too. You just can never tell exactly how you're going to be running each and every weekend.

I would hope we're more consistently in the front. I think that should be the goal. That's when that win will come. You have to be at the right place at the right time.

Q. It seemed like at the start of last year, one of the goals was just to gain experience and complete laps, stay in the race, avoid trouble.

DANICA PATRICK: That didn't last very long (laughter).

Q. Homestead had some unique things happen. As you approach year number two, now that you have all that experience behind you, I assume obviously the comfort level has increased. Are there specific goals? Would there be differences in specific goals from complete laps to consistently run in the top five or top ten, anything like that?

DANICA PATRICK: Well, I'm not really sure exactly what the question would be.

Like I said, every event will be different. The ultimate goal for the year will be to run in front more often. We'll just have to see how it goes, take it from there.

Q. Could you tell us what it was like being a woman growing up in such a male-dominated sport? Did you have to work harder to prove yourself?

DANICA PATRICK: I had to keep proving myself over and over and over again. I think that might be one of the things that I feel like I've had to do. Just stick with it.

But I think ultimately I'm no different than any other young driver trying to make it. You just have to be persistent and consistent with it. You have to keep trying and trying and trying for someone to believe in you and give you the opportunity that you need to show them that you're 'the man' or woman for the job (laughter). I think that's what I've done. I bet I'm very similar to a lot of guys.

Q. You got hooked on racing at a young age. What was it about racing that appealed to you so much from the beginning?

DANICA PATRICK: I tried a lot of different things when I grew up. I did jazz class, tumbling, volleyball, basketball, band, choir, track. I tried a lot of different things. I think I just found what stuck and what I was good at and what I enjoyed.

I was lucky. I was able to have fun and play well, you know, kind of with whatever I did. But it was racing that really was exciting to me. I don't know exactly what it was, but it just caught me and I liked seeing things get better over time. I liked to see it happen very quickly. I use this comparison all the time, but whether I'm ironing a shirt and it goes from wrinkly to flat or whether I'm driving a race car and the lap times come down and down and down or the average speed goes up and up and up, it's kind of an immediate gratification. That to me was exciting.

I remember being a kid, driving around the go-kart track, just practicing. I would come into the pits and let's say I was doing 53-second laps, I would come in and go, "Dad, what was I doing? Was it doing 52's?" He's like, "Yeah." It was kind of exciting how it got better and I could see that happening.

Q. Do you have set goals personally? Would you be happy with more podiums, top five's? What would please you this year as far as every race finishing goes?

DANICA PATRICK: Well, it's tough. I always feel on the spot when I try to answer these 'cause I don't want to set myself up to fail.

But, you know, ultimately again, like I was saying, I'd like to just make sure I run in the front all the time. I'd like to run a bit stronger on some of the road -- all of the road courses. I think if that happens and I do run in the front consistently all year, to win a race. I'd love to win a bunch of races, but I probably would walk away from the season happy if I could win a race.

That's probably the most specific goals I've ever given.

Q. Talking to Helio (Castroneves) and Dan (Wheldon) last week about their attitudes. They've kind of taken the attitude maybe after Indy when all the focus was on you, now they kind of almost embrace the fact that you're in the series. Do you think they kind of realize what's good for -- all the attention paid to you helps everybody else around the series?

DANICA PATRICK: I would imagine that it does. I would imagine that the success of the series will help all drivers. It will generate sponsorship. It will generate endorsements for other drivers hopefully. I think that will be the way that it helps the most. Maybe their paychecks get bigger, I don't know. Whatever happens is good.

I'm flattered that they embrace it all because, gosh, I don't know how I would have taken all those questions about somebody else. It's a position I haven't really been in. I think they all handled it beautifully. I thank them all for that.

Q. What would you put on your personal highlight reel for your off-season and what do you remember most about last season?

DANICA PATRICK: Kind of the same thing, right? Well, you know, I think my first highlight of the year probably came at Homestead when I was finally understanding, learning, being more brave in the race with passing, not just on the inside but on the outside, too. I went three-wide down in turns three and four and went around two cars. I was the third one on the top. That still scares me to this day, being three-wide and being the one furthest out. That was a highlight for me. It was a brave moment.

Obviously, Indianapolis was good. I think qualifying -- actually, another highlight would have been Motegi, almost getting on pole. I went from not really being anywhere in qualifying to I think Sam Hornish was like one of the last couple to go. I was on pole all the way up until the last guy. That felt really good. That was a good moment.

Then qualifying again at Indy, saving the car, being very upset, I can't even express to you how mad I was that night of not getting the pole. Ultimately I think it served its purpose kind of nicely. It showed a little car control, I guess. I don't know.

Then hugging my dad after the Indy 500 race. That was a big highlight. Probably the best of them all. The race was the race, there were ups and downs. But hugging my dad afterwards and actually my photographer, Paul Webb, he caught it on camera. It is a really amazing picture. It shows so much emotion. I'm going to stop right there because it was the best one.

Q. Is it the hope the circus atmosphere which surrounded you last year will kind of disappear and go away or is the hope that the excitement level will continue?

DANICA PATRICK: Well, I'm conditioned, so let it grow (laughter). Again, I'm not sure how much further there is to go, but there is room I'm sure. I mean, I'm OK with it. I hope that it gets bigger and better and it, again, keeps growing the series and gets everybody's name out there.

I can handle it. I'm fine with it. It would be bad if I felt the pressure to perform along with it. But I promise you, I want to do well for myself. I'm the one that has to live with all of it at the end of the day. If I can walk away happy from the event, then that's all that I ask for from myself. I don't worry about what other people say or what other people think. That would be the bad thing, is if I felt more pressure as a result of the attention.

I mean, realistically, I find excitement out of it. I think all the other drivers like it, too. It always feels good to be in a big hyped atmosphere. Helio Castroneves said it best in Indianapolis before we walked out to the starting grid, he said, "I just wish every race was like this. It's so much fun." I thought about it. It's so true. It's so true. Indianapolis is such an event. So, therefore, I hope it keeps getting bigger and better, and more people keep watching and more attention is on it.

Q. Did it get in the way at times of the racing?

DANICA PATRICK: I never let it get in the way of racing. I was definitely always to my car on time. There's other stuff that suffers slightly, and that's just the energy levels. It's very controlled on the race weekends. Brent (Maurer) with PR does not let it get out of control. He and I and everybody else hopefully knows that the news is what happens on the track. That's the real news. That's why I'm here. We make sure that the weekends are very -- that there's a lot of time for driving.

But, you know, there are times outside of those days that get very, very busy. I get sick. I'm very tired. I'm cranky. Go figure, a woman cranky. But it happens, and that's OK. I'm sure that anybody else that's in the public eye gets that, too, whether you're an actor and you go to a press junket or you're a performer and you're on stage every night. There are just times where you suck it up and you do it for the good of yourself and everybody else. That's what I do.

Q. There's going to be a press conference tomorrow with Carmelo Anthony buying into the Hemelgarn team. Can you talk about the diversity, an African American basketball player, you're a woman, all the other drivers come from all over the planet, then P.J. who is just kind of strange in general? Can you talk about that diversity of drivers.

DANICA PATRICK: I think that diversity is just showing in a different way now. Goodness, we all think back to the split. It was a -- before that, it was a lot of people from a lot of different countries. Diversity from where you're from. I think we're seeing a different style of it now. We're seeing people involved that are actors, professional athletes in other sports, the music industry, wherever they're from. It's just a different style.

I think it's really great. I think that's the best way for IndyCar to go mainstream, is that people from so many different areas and styles of living kind of are paying attention. I think it's a good thing. It's a good diversity.

Q. I was wondering what kind of effect having one less teammate on the Rahal team is going to have on your setups or exchange of information now that Vitor has gone away.

DANICA PATRICK: Well, we do have a third car, it's Paul Dana. He's been with the team for a while now. He's been with us in testing over the Phoenix and Homestead tests this year. We do have a third car.

Obviously, Vitor was a wealth of information. He is a very good driver. We work very well together. I really liked Vitor. We as drivers don't always cheer for each other to get a ride or do well. But it's impossible not to cheer for him, he's such a nice guy.

We'll miss him, but he's still around. Goodness, you never know what could happen in the future. In the meantime, Paul will do well I'm sure. For sure, if anything, just be like me, learn a lot. He is going to be a rookie still this year because he only did three races last year. He's got some learning to do. That's just the way it goes. I'm sure we'll be able to pull some information from him somewhere, make it work to our advantage as a team.

Q. Can you talk about the dynamics of the fact that everybody has a Honda this year. That probably makes it more difficult to win a race than it would have last year.

DANICA PATRICK: You know, there isn't any more diversity. It's all the same. It kind of - pardon my language - it kind of sucks for the ones that had Hondas before because they were obviously a little bit stronger than the rest. At the end of the day, it's still racing. It's still racing. You just have to work a little harder in some other areas and try and make the car faster or whatever makes you end up in the front at the end of the race.

Unfortunately, I don't think it's quite -- it's not as much of an advantage for the people that are still running Hondas. For the new guys, it's just going to mean closer racing. If that means it's better racing, then it's serving its purpose. It's good for the fans. At the end of the day, both you and I and everybody else knows when you have a whole bunch of fans, you have a whole bunch of jobs and a whole bunch of sponsors. That's what keeps our wheels turning, both on and off the track.

Q. During the off-season, the sponsorship opportunities came up, different than what IndyCar racing has seen, the Twinkies deal. Can you talk about some of the things people have asked you?

DANICA PATRICK: We've obviously seen a lot of cross-marketing from different people in NASCAR and stuff like that. I think some of that has come to us over here at IndyCar. It just has to do with your profile.

Hostess is a big brand. My goodness, I'm on boxes all over the place. The profile of the sport is what demands money, it's what demands people in it, it's what gets it all going. I think it's just a result of all the attention from last year that I got. I suppose the level of fame or celebrity, I'm not sure which word is better, if any, and that's the kind of stuff, again, that spills over into mainstream markets that people notice.

I actually was just -- I'm in Birmingham right now doing an appearance for Honda. I was down in the local little mall area, I was getting my makeup done, because she asked me if I wanted a makeover, and I never turn that down. The ladies there came over, one of them came over and said, "Are you Danica Patrick the race car driver?" I'm in NASCAR country. I'm getting my makeup done in the middle of a big city and they notice.

I would imagine it's all a result of just being more mainstream. I think it's what is going to keep the series going and going up.

Q. You're not really eating Twinkies with your fitness?

DANICA PATRICK: I don't know what my contract says, if I can answer that. If that's your answer, there you go.

Q. Could you talk a bit about your experience at the Rolex 24 here at Daytona.

DANICA PATRICK: Well, I had a really good time at Daytona. I thought it was a lot of fun. I have said it before, but I was not going to do the race until it was with a great team and I had a chance to win. I still do realize in my position -- this is only my perception, if I don't do well at something, then people are going to mark me for it. I didn't want to go to Daytona in a different car, you know, not perform well or be off the pace or something, have it not be my fault, but people saw it as my fault. I wanted to make sure it was with a good team.

That's what happened. I had a great time. It's unfortunate that we broke down after nine hours. We were running up front, anywhere from fifth to first. We were running strong. I was about to go in for my double stint. It was a shame. I'd love to do it again. It's a really unique event that provides lots of driving.

Q. There's a prominent Grand-Am driver, Milka Duno. Did you spend any time with her?

DANICA PATRICK: I don't know Milka. I probably have met her. I don't have much to say. It would be like you asking me about Bob Smith. I'm not sure about him either. I hope she does really well. I think she's generated some attention for her series, too. That's good. That means people are using the difference in us to their benefit, so that's great.

Q. When might you be able to get your first W under your belt? If you had to guess right now, which track would it be? Which one are you putting money on?

DANICA PATRICK: I'm not putting money on any. That's a loaded question, man. If I put money on one of the tracks for me to win, that's where all the hype would go. That's not good. It will happen when it happens naturally. I hope it's sooner than later. Shoot, I hope it's at Homestead. We don't know. You don't know. I don't know. There's many tracks that I enjoy. I'm going to say any one of them.

Q. You've had numerous shows you've appeared on, commercials, magazines. Do you consider these activities a blessing or a hindrance or part of the whole celebrity?

DANICA PATRICK: And part of the job. I think everything that I do, I said it at the end of the year last year, if I want to be a business owner, I want to own my own company, Danica Racing, I need to act like it and work hard and make the most of all these situations.

By all means it was done last year before I made that decision in my mind. But it's a full-time job. This is all part of it. I was telling my husband the other day, "OK, honey, I'm off. See you later." He's like, "OK, be good." It's not like it's always that hard where I go, what I do. It's just I have to jump on a plane for everything. That's just draining. The actual work weekends that are harder are the race weekends. If it's not traveling, it's just the actual physical ability of it all, going through all the driving part of it.

It's all part of it. I think it's necessary. I don't think that I'm much different than anybody else that is a well-paid athlete.

Q. I saw a bio that said you enjoyed watching movies. Of the following, which did you like the most, Gone in 60 Seconds, Fast and Furious, Days of Thunder or the Herbie flick?

DANICA PATRICK: I probably wouldn't have wrote any of those down. I liked Days of Thunder. That's an all-timer.

Q. With a name like Danica Patrick, what are your plans for St. Patrick's day?

DANICA PATRICK: I probably will lay low, as that will be the last weekend at home for a very long time. I'm going to try not to do anything at all. I am going to put food coloring in my water while I drink it.

Q. Do you have any changes in the makeup of the team this year?

DANICA PATRICK: We've got a few new mechanics, some people have been shuffled around a little bit. For the most part a lot of it's very similar. I still have Ray Leto for my engineer. I have a new 'DAG' as I would call him, the guy who looks over all the data, Henry. He's new on my car, not new to the team. We were quite comfortable with our Honda engineers last year. This year it's a floating Honda engineer sort of program where you have a different one every weekend. That's new. That's always going to be changing.

For the most part I've got a really young group of guys on my car right now doing pit stops. I'm hoping for the best. I'm hoping that it gets better and better from last year to now and throughout the year. Good changes.

Q. That continuity has to help you because now you're getting to know what you all can do better because you know the circuits a lot better than you did last year. Doesn't it help to have Ray back again?

DANICA PATRICK: Oh, yeah. Ray is a really amazing engineer. He's great on the radio. He's really optimistic and soothing sort of. He doesn't get too flustered on the radio. I've heard he's only been actually upset about three times that anybody's seen. That's good for me because I have plenty of that in me. It can leave the getting mad part to me.

Yeah, it always helps. It always helps to keep continuity and keep relationships going and growing.

Q. When you pop up at a shorter track like Richmond, does it ever cross your mind what it would be like to spin around there in a NEXTEL Cup car?

DANICA PATRICK: I can't imagine there's a whole lot of room. I would imagine it would all be quite relative once you got out there with everybody else. You probably -- maybe you can run a hint closer. I don't even know if you can run any closer than we do. You definitely don't have wheels exposed.

I don't know. Do they run two-wide at Richmond?

Q. They do.

DANICA PATRICK: We can't really run two-wide. Maybe to a certain extent it would actually feel bigger.

Q. There's a common groove.

DANICA PATRICK: We really don't there. That would probably help with the whole size aspect.

Q. Ever thought about Nextel Cup as something you might try in the future at all?

DANICA PATRICK: Well, I think about it, but the hard thing for me is that it's just so much racing. Where I'm so busy now, I just can't imagine having four times the races or whatever, three times the races. It just seems unfeasible. But they do it.

I asked Mark Martin at Phoenix when I was there, I was lucky enough to get to sit down with him for a while on race day, for like 45 minutes. The first thing I asked is, "Aren't you tired?" To be honest, I asked the same question to Rusty, too. Mark's answer was that he was a little bit tired. He's like, "The first couple years it's hard, but then once you do it, it's just your way of life. You learn how to cope with it, learn how you're going to deal with it, make it work for you."

I'm sure it would all be possible. At this point in time I'm just thrilled to be driving IndyCars and racing at Indianapolis, just all of that. I've always wanted to be an IndyCar driver since I was a little girl. It's not like I'm too big now. I don't want to let go of that until a deal comes along that I can't refuse.

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