In the 54-year history of the illustrious Daytona 500, no woman has ever started the race from the pole position. That is, not until now. Danica Patrick, the longtime GoDaddy spokeswoman who has had her fair share of struggles on the IndyCar circuit, is hoping that come Sunday, she can be known as a Daytona 500 winner. The 30-year-old Patrick caught up with The Huffington Post to talk about her transition from Indy to NASCAR, what it will be like racing against her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and the amount of pressure she feels entering a race of this magnitude.
How do you feel right now?
I'm excited. Whenever things are going well and the car is going fast, I feel like there is more pressure. For me, I don't want to let the team or the car's potential down. It's tough in a rookie position where I don't have a lot of experience. But I'm grateful for the experience I had on mile-and-a-half ovals, because that high speed chess match is kind of reminiscent of Daytona and what we have to do in the stock car.
What are the crucial racing differences between the Indy circuit and Daytona?
There's a lot of them. The car itself is very different. The language is quite different. The schedule is different. I think the toughest thing for me to figure out is what do I need in a race car. How does it feel? The things that happen on a track, or just the things that happen in a stock car. It's not a sensation that I've had very often, so to start to identify those and understand how to use them and make the car faster. That's what I'm trying to learn, and when I figure that stuff out is when the speed will be more consistently there.
With that said, what is your comfort level in a stock car?
I mean, I feel more comfortable. I'm definitely comfortable with the speeds and the drivers. But, do I know how to handle all those situations? Have I been out on the track with these drivers? Not really. When I did the Daytona 500 last year, I was caught in a crash coming past the start-finish line to complete the first lap. After that, we got out towards the end of the race, and all I did was ride around in the back and kind of feel what it was like in the very back. But I didn't want to be a part or a reason for the outcome to change in the race because I was 60 or 70 laps down. I still have a lot of experience to gain on these big speedway tracks. The aerodynamics of these cars is completely different and that's something that is incredibly important to know and understand to make your way to the front.
What is one element that's much different from Indy?
So, in IndyCar, what is right in front of you tends to make the biggest difference; what's behind you doesn't matter. In the stock car, what's right behind you is the difference as to how the car feels. Working with that opposite end of the car, not to mention the holes that the car punches in the air are so much bigger than an Indycar, so you need to use that to your advantage.
In a race like this one, will you lean on your crew more, considering your lack of experience?
There's probably some additional basic questions before the race, or even during the race. Stressing the over-communication to insure that everybody is as clear as possible on what we need to do and what I need to do and how to do it.
Danica Patrick will be the first woman ever -- in the 54-year history of the Daytona 500 -- to start from the pole position.
What about racing against Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (boyfriend and fellow Daytona driver)?
Um, what about it?
From an outside perspective, it's very cool. Is that something that you actually think about when you're in your car?
That's funny. I had a really good friend tell me she was really excited to see how we raced each other. Somebody asked me if I think of him as just another car out there, just another number. I answered no, because I've never thought of him that way. He's always helped me. He was never seemingly threatened by me or me getting better. We've been friends for a long time, and he's been one of the most comfortable people around me, so no, I don't see him as just some ordinary driver. I see him as someone I have a lot of respect for and that I give room on the track. He does the same for me. We've always done that.
Do you feel more pressure to succeed in a race of this magnitude?
I think that the media is definitely the biggest difference. The team has put a tremendous amount of effort into this. I feel like one of the biggest things they do to prepare for this race is get that car ready for qualifying. It's very cool for the crew to have that pole. I'm sure they're excited that the new Chevy SS is there on the car. Ultimately, GoDaddy has been very patient waiting for me to get to full-time Sprint Cup; I know it. I know it was a little bit of a process, but they've stood behind me. There's a lot of people that can enjoy this good day that we had.
As a female, what does it mean to win the pole in such a male-dominated industry?
You know, I'm proud to do it. I'm happy to do it, but more than anything, I told Tony Gibson, my crew chief: You guys built a fast car and I'm just lucky enough to drive it.
What would you tell younger women coming up the most difficult thing to drive at this level is?
Well, I'd first say that you gotta find your passion, and if you do, nothing tends to feel too difficult, because it's what you want to do, and you're driven to do it. As far as what's been the most difficult, at least for me, keeping your confidence up. I think it's easy to get down at times, and you doubt yourself, but you have to stay confident. I always knew I'd make it to the top, no matter what. It doesn't mean that along the way you don't get down. But what never changes is you, and so if you do well one day and not the next day, you don't change as a person. Always stay confident in yourself but at the same time, stay humble when things are going well.
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