Danica Patrick talks Indy's centennial, future in NASCAR, more
Danica Patrick will again try to become the first woman to win the Indy 500
A respectful approach to Indianapolis Motor Speedway has helped Danica
Danica says that continuing to run in both series is a viable option next year
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- There is exactly one month to go until the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, which means Danica Patrick is counting down the moments until she gets yet another chance to try to become the first woman to win the historic race.
She's already made history there, becoming the first female ever to lead laps during the 500 and nearly won the race as a rookie in 2005. In 2009, she finished third -- the highest ever for a female driver. Patrick made NASCAR history this year when she finished fourth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas -- her highest stock car finish, and the highest for a female in NASCAR since Sara Christensen's fifth-place finish at Pittsburgh in 1949.
But nothing, absolutely nothing, would top a win in the world's most prestigious race.
Indy practice doesn't start until May 14, with Pole Day on May 21, and Bump Day set for May 22. Race Day is May 29 -- exactly one month from today. Meanwhile, Patrick will hit the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil on Sunday for the final road course race in the series. Indianapolis is the first oval track race for the drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series, something she's looking forward to because she's a better oval driver than road course racer.
SI.com caught up with her before she departed for South America and got her views on her hopes for this year's Indy 500, what she learned from getting booed there last year and more.
SI.com: Can you pinpoint why you do so well at Indy?
Danica Patrick: "All I can say is I've always respected the Speedway even on laps years ago when you would be flat out and driving by yourself and be in race trim and have too much downforce to run by yourself. I remember thinking to myself it was easy, but I had to remind myself don't think that, focus on every corner, this track can bite you, anything can happen, hit your marks every single corner. Just know that it is the Speedway -- the fastest track we race on and one little mistake can put you in the wall. I have always had a lot of respect for the track and have always enjoyed driving it. I think it is an important track to have a car that you are confident in underneath you. It's such a flat track that one little mistake is costly. If you don't know where you can put your car and how confident you can be in it or what you can do with the throttle or the steering wheel you are liable to make a mistake at some point.
"What I learned early on there and partly because I had a good race car and had something that did everything I wanted it to do is you can't drive around the car there. If it's not good, it's not good. If it doesn't feel right you can't just pound it around and try harder. You won't be successful every single lap and every single corner. You have to get the car right and trust your instincts there. You don't have to get the car loose to show your team and engineer the car is loose. If you can't keep your foot down going into the corner than just come in and fix it. Those are the things that I have done there and part of what helps me do well there. It's a long race, too, and you have to stay focused for four hours."
SI.com: How important is it to you and any driver to be participating in the 100th Anniversary of the Indy 500?
DP: "I can say you sure hope that you do well on the 100th Anniversary. Every year it is a huge event and hopefully everybody has their ducks in a row to advertise properly and get as many people to watch the race as possible, not just because it's the 100th Anniversary, but because it's a great race. The 100th Anniversary is a platform for us to tell the story and for people to be interested in the race and the broadcast and for people to be interested in for the rest of the month. It sure would be nice to have the 100th on the base of the trophy."
SI.com: Last year you were booed after your qualification attempt when you criticized the team for the setup of the car and booed again in driver introductions on Race Day. How much did that affect you and serve as a wake-up call?
DP: "Obviously it was not the right thing to say. I know that. It was a comment of criticism and blame and nothing anyone wants to hear. That is not what you want to hear from someone that you look up to and cheer for. You want them to be a positive, excited person. That is not what I was that day. I learned then, and continue to learn, that people are always listening to you, people are always watching and even if they are not, you need to act like they are because you never know. It was important for me to put my best foot forward and it was a moment of some emotion. I can't say that I'll never be emotional again, but the way I let it out was not good."
SI.com: Is May your favorite month because you get to go to Indianapolis?
DP: "We have Indy, Texas, Milwaukee and Iowa that is a pretty good month. I've always enjoyed short tracks. Indy is by far my favorite event of the whole year and Texas is a track where I had a pretty good race last year with good results. Things are looking up. It doesn't mean I can't have good results on a road course, but it's nice to go to an oval and qualify where you feel your speed really is and get to work. My mood is dictated a lot by how my racing is going and that means I'll be in a good mood the rest of next month."
SI.com: Sunday is the last road and street course race for two months. Are you glad?
DP: "That's true and what it has really come down to is this year in practice I've been a lot better off than I was last year. I'm at least mid-pack in practice, but I'm not very good in qualifying. Then the race comes and I'm fine and sometimes I have really good races and I'm passing cars with fast laps, but the elements of qualifying for me I'm not great at it. I know that and I'm going to do what it takes to be good at it. If that can change I feel like that is the missing piece.
"Other than that is where you see the big difference at qualifying on ovals. For the most part, it's easier, you put your foot down and go for that. If you were going to trade you would trade and have worse qualifying results on the ovals and better on the road courses because you have time on the ovals to make up position. On the road courses there is not much you can do. You have to rely on chance and risk and strategy and those things don't always play out for you. On the ovals, if you have a good car you'll go to the front. Qualifying is not so great on the road courses for me so the short answer if I'm happy to be going back to ovals? Yes."