The question was posed to several drivers who walked into the room.
In 2017, I want to …
They said “win another championship” or “win more races” or some variation of those.
One response, though, was different. It was more open-ended.
“In 2017 I want to … be my best.’’
The speaker was Danica Patrick.
“I just want to be my best,’’ she told NBC Sports in a recent interview. “I want to know that I’ve left no stone unturned, know that I have made minimal mistakes in the races, that I dug deep and stepped outside my comfort zone to go faster and do better.
“Do my best. That’s all that I can do.’’
She enters her fifth full-time season of Cup after a frustrating campaign. She finished no better than 11th in any of the 36 points races last season. She has gone 64 Cup races since her last top-10 finish, a ninth-place result at Bristol in April 2015.
She conceded during the NASCAR on NBC Podcast with Nate Ryan in November her frustrations.
“It’s just not much fun,’’ Patrick said on the podcast. “Running in the top 15 every weekend would be so much more fun.
“It breaks my heart every Sunday when it doesn’t go well.’’
The offseason also has had its ups and downs. She appeared at last week’s NASCAR Media Tour in her TaxAct uniform instead of a Nature’s Bakery uniform, raising questions about the company’s primary sponsorship. The company was slated to be the primary sponsor for more than 20 races this year.
Stewart-Haas Racing stated that it and Nature’s Bakery were in “discussions about how the sponsorship might look in 2017. Both sides have options, and it’s a matter of determining what is best for both parties.’’
Nature’s Bakery website, though, does not feature Patrick, and a press release on the company’s sponsorship of Patrick’s team from Aug. 2015 no longer is on the site. The TaxAct uniform Patrick wore on the NASCAR Media Tour did not include a Nature’s Bakery patch.
Patrick can’t control that situation. Her focus is on the track.
Patrick said she’s spent additional time with crew chief Billy Scott to discuss how they can improve her performance.
“What are we going to do to get the result that we want because if you want the same thing that you’ve had, then just go on and keep doing the same thing, but I want something different,’’ Patrick said. “I want more. I want to do better. I want to have fun. Running 20th or 24th is not fun and I don’t come to add a car to the field and just be out there.
“If I’m not having fun for a long enough time, then there’s so much more to life. This is a year to really see what we can do to have some fun out there and perform. I think they go hand in hand. When you’re having fun, you perform. When you perform, you have fun.’’
Patrick notes that Stewart-Haas Racing’s move from Chevrolet to Ford could lead to greater results. Previously, the organization received engines, chassis and technical support from Hendrick Motorsports. Now, Stewart-Haas Racing will use its own chassis and receive engines from from Roush Yates Engines.
“For me, as a racer, I feel like the best results are going to come from you being able to create your own destiny, your own future by working really hard and having something that somebody else doesn’t,’’ Patrick said. “It’s pretty tough to beat people when you’re getting equipment from them.The best you can expect is the same.’’
Patrick is looking for anything but the same this year.