Crew Chief Has Lesson Plan for Patrick
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on May 12, 2014 | 4:03 P.M. EST
Crew chief Tony Gibson says Kansas was a key weekend for Danica Patrick but work remains. (Photo: Getty Images)
Saturday night showed Danica Patrick what’s possible. This weekend, crew chief Tony Gibson wants her to show she can do even more.
Patrick’s career-high seventh-place finish at Kansas Speedway was a reason to celebrate, but that time is past and the focus turns to Friday night’s Sprint Showdown and, possibly, Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Patrick is in the Sprint Showdown and will need to either race her way into the All-Star event or win the fan vote a second consecutive year to advance.
She enters Charlotte with renewed confidence after her strong run last weekend.
“I guarantee you we’re going to work even harder now,’’ Patrick said after the Kansas race. “It’s not just sitting back. We’re going to work harder because we love where we’re at and this is what we work for. When you taste it, you don’t want to let it go.”
Crew chief Tony Gibson was pleased with Patrick’s performance but also is looking ahead. He said one area Patrick needs to improve is passing. She ranks 21st among Sprit Cup drivers in green-flag passes this season. She is ahead of some drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski, because they’ve been at the front so much and had fewer opportunities to pass for position. Patrick’s average running position is 25.5.
“She can go out there and cut laps all day long in practice but it was like when we got around other cars that’s where we struggled on passing cars,’’ Gibson said. “We could take a car that was half a second faster and catch somebody and couldn’t pass. Figuring out how to pass in one of these cars and passing in an IndyCar is totally different.
“She’s learned a lot of that. She’s gotten better at some of that. Are we 100 percent of where we need to be? No, we’re probably 60 percent of where we need to be. I think that’s going to come from weekends like this weekend when she was faster than guys and caught them and she thought about how to set them up and how to pass them.’’
Gibson said Tony Stewart has counseled Patrick on how to race and earn respect from competitors.
“The other night when she was faster than the guys, they just moved over,’’ Gibson said. “They knew she was coming. She’s got to learn how to do that. When somebody is faster than us, let them have the spot and get back in line so we don’t lose so much speed. All that is just experience.’’
Gibson said Patrick gained valuable experience at Kansas racing toward the front and how those drivers race.
“When you’re racing in the back ... you’re racing for your life, you’re not really learning anything,’’ Gibson said. “When you get to the top 10 or top 15, you’re racing better guys. You’re going to learn how to be a better racer, how to pass guys and how to do things.’’
Patrick said a highlight of the Kansas race was passing Jimmie Johnson on the high side on a restart.
That’s another key area Gibson is seeking improvement from Patrick. He wants her to be more aggressive on restarts. Patrick ranks 32nd in the series in fastest drivers on restarts.
It’s an area teammate Kevin Harvick has talked to her about.
“As she went through the weekend, she kept her track position on the restarts,’’ he said. “That's probably the biggest thing. I guess the one thing I did tell her was just to quit thinking about it and smash the gas. Sometimes your car is never going to be perfect, and you just have to take what it'll give you.’’
Gibson said this weekend’s races will give Patrick more chances to work on her restarts with the Sprint Showdown divided into segments. She could get some extra work if she makes the All-Star race, which also is divided into segments and features restarts.
“I don’t know if we’re as aggressive as we need to be,’’ Gibson said of Patrick’s restarts. “If you’re on the high side with 10 to go on a restart or any restart and there’s a high line available, if you watch Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman, those guys that are the best at it, they’ll jump to the high side and hold it wide open.
“They’ve only got to run it wide open through one corner and they’ll pass eight to 10 cars. That’s the kind of things I mean to be aggressive. When you see a hole, you’ve got to go. You can’t hesitate. I think that’s what she has got to be better at. The car is the best it’s going to be when it has fresh tires and full of fuel ... so use that, be more more aggressive on the early part of a run, go three-wide if you have to, go to the top if you have to, don’t lift if you have to.’’