CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Moments before Danica Patrick climbed into her car for the start of the Daytona 500, Tony Stewart leaned in closely to give his driver some last-minute advice.
He almost got punched for it, too.
Patrick was unsure who in the thick crowd of people surrounding her car had put their hands on her: "He grabbed me first and I was about ready to unleash on someone," she said.
Once she realized it was Stewart, her Stewart-Haas Racing teammate and car co-owner, she let him get close enough for what appeared to be a whisper in her ear. The moment was caught on live television, leading fans to wonder what Stewart had to say.
"He just said, `Block all this out. You go do it. It's your time now. Focus. You'll do a great job,'" Patrick recalled.
Patrick went on to become the first woman in NASCAR history to lead laps in the Daytona 500, and became the 13th driver to lead laps in both the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's biggest race. She finished eighth in the race after starting from the pole, running in the top 10 most of the race and positioning herself at the front in the closing laps. She was third until the final frantic last-lap sprint to the finish.
She said after she appreciated Stewart's words of wisdom.
"What he said was simple, but calming, and it probably was what also drove me to just, as soon as the anthem was over with, to get in the car," Patrick said.