Danica Patrick Igniting Her Sprint Cup Career With Upcoming Daytona 500
Millions of people will tune in to FOX next Sunday for the 54th running of the annual Daytona 500 and listen to Darrell Waltrip’s famous words “Boogity, boogity, boogity! Let’s go racin’, boys!” officially kick of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. DW may have to tinker with his trademark opening as things will be a little different this go around with this race marking just the third time in NASCAR’s 65 years that a female is among the 43-driver field taking the green flag.
Former IZOD IndyCar Series star Danica Patrick is embarking on a NASCAR Sprint Cup career with championship-winning organization Stewart-Haas Racing. The team recently announced a collaborative partnership with Tommy Baldwin Racing to field Patrick’s No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet Impala for all 10 of her Sprint Cup races in 2012, which includes Texas Motor Speedway’s AAA Texas 500 in November. This guarantees Patrick a starting position in the upcoming Daytona 500 and she will join former female drivers Janet Guthrie and Shawna Robinson as the only women to compete in the storied event.
Patrick, however, is the only driver of this select group to have won a major-sanctioned, closed-course event. In her seven years of professional open-wheel racing she earned three poles and seven podium finishes, including a victory in 2008 at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi. That win allowed her to become the first female driver in history to win a race on a major closed-course event.
Patrick’s lifestyle off the track trumps other female drivers as well as she enters NASCAR with “celebrity” status. She has become one of the most recognizable athletes in the United States as she has been featured in the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and has made numerous appearances in Super Bowl television commercials, on national talk shows and on the red carpet for award shows such as the ESPYS.
“I’m a race car driver and I’m a girl so I don’t ignore any of that and so I never try to make people not talk about me being a girl because I am and I respect what It’s done for me, and that it’s helped me get to this point in my career,” Patrick, 29, said. “It’s time for me to go take it to the track and actually get in the car and do my job and that’s what keeps me in the sport.”
So is Patrick ready for the high banks of Daytona International Speedway and all the intensity that Sprint Cup competition brings? A part-time schedule in the NASCAR Nationwide Series the past two years has served as her introduction to a career in stock-car racing. In 25 Nationwide Series races Patrick has earned three top-10 finishes, including a fourth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last season when she became the highest-finishing female in a NASCAR national series event.
Now Patrick is under the watch of three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, who has paired her with the crew chief that led him to two of his three titles – Greg Zipadelli. He is no stranger when it comes to working with rookies transitioning from open-wheel racing as he guided Stewart to three victories when he made the move from INDYCAR to NASCAR in 1999.
“Partnering with Tommy and his team provides Danica with the foundation she needs to succeed,” Zipadelli said. “To finally be able to work with each other and help Danica Patrick make a successful transition from Indy cars to stock cars is a challenge we’re both looking forward to. With a guaranteed starting spot, we can go into each weekend and simply learn. It’s all about getting her comfortable in the car, and with the variety of tracks she’s running, seat time will be incredibly valuable. A guaranteed spot in the race ensures that she’ll have the opportunity to make as many laps as possible.”
Patrick’s 10-race Sprint Cup schedule is as follows:
- Feb. 26: Daytona 500
- May 12: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway
- May 27: Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway
- Aug. 25: Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway
- Sept. 2: Atlanta Motor Speedway
- Sept. 16: Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
- Sept. 30: Dover (Del.) International Speedway
- Nov. 4: AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway
- Nov. 11: Phoenix International Raceway
One more race has yet to be determined for Patrick and the decision on the 11th venue will come after the team has assessed her competition needs.
“Our goal with Danica’s schedule is to try and maximize her 10 races so that she’s as prepared as she can possibly be for a full-time Sprint Cup schedule in 2013,” Stewart said. “There are short tracks, intermediate 1.5-mile ovals, and some unique tracks like Darlington and Phoenix. The point is to expose her to as many challenges as possible so that she’ll know what to expect in 2013.”
The 2012 Daytona 500 is Sunday, Feb. 26, at 1 p.m . ET on FOX.