Although Danica Patrick’s NASCAR career has had its struggles going from open-wheel cars to stock cars, she does not look back on her decision to leave IndyCar with regret.
“I do not second-guess any of my decisions about being in IndyCar, leaving for NASCAR, not doing the double (Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day), nothing,’’ she told reporters Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway. “I just don’t really live with a lot of regrets. I’m happy with where I am. If I would have changed anything, I wouldn’t be right here right now. I don’t think there’s any reason to look back.’’
Patrick, in her fourth full Sprint Cup season, enters this weekend at Pocono Raceway 24th in the points. She has six top-10 finishes in 131 career starts. Her best finish this season is 13th at Dover.
Among the challenges she has faced is finding the right crew chief. Tony Gibson served as her crew chief for two races in 2012, all of 2013 and most of 2014 (for a total of 71 points races) before a switch was made. Daniel Knost became Patrick’s crew chief for the final three races of 2014 and all of 2015 (a total of 39 points races) before another change. Billy Scott became Patrick’s crew chief this season.
“With Tony Gibson, it took a year and half before we really kind of fell into a good sync pattern where he knew me and I knew him and the car was close every weekend,’’ said Patrick, who was in Daytona to promote a ticket package for the July 2 Coke Zero 400, which will be shown on NBC. “So I know there’s no substitute for time on some level, but it doesn’t mean you can’t push. For me it’s about approaching things in a different way and seeing if we can improve our results.’’
While changing crew chiefs can lead to better results immediately, that’s not always the case. Some pairings take longer. Kyle Larson entered this year with Chad Johnston as his new crew chief. Larson is 21st in the points (he was 20th at this time last year), scoring a runner-up finish at Dover and a third at Martinsville along with four finishes of 34th or worse. Carl Edwards is in his first season with crew chief Dave Rogers and is fifth in the points (Edwards was 16th at this time last year) and has two victories.
“I feel like when a good combination comes together it tends to stick for quite a while, so I hope that Billy and I … can be consistent from year to year and build and build and build, especially with the limited amount of testing we get these days,’’ Patrick said.
With a new crew chief comes a new way of looking at things to be better.
“Can we pinpoint a couple of things that we can do to at least just change our approach for now, whether it be in the car or out of the car, how we structure the weekend, which direction we go with things?’’ Patrick said. “Do we focus on our teammates or do we go on our own path?
“There’s a lot of different ways to approach the weekend and a lot of areas you can change the approach. It’s a matter of picking a couple of things that we can do different and seeing if they work. If they don’t, we’ll try something else. By no means will it be by a lack of effort if we don’t have a good race.’’
Among the lessons she’s learned since moving to NASCAR is just what it takes to be successful.
“It’s not just the team, it’s not just the driver, it’s not just luck,’’ Patrick said. “It’s all those things. Everything has to be on and I feel like why there’s so much pride and so much excitement when you do run up front and get to victory lane because it’s so hard.
“I feel like at any point in NASCAR you could see great drivers struggle for a year and then all of a sudden they come back. We as drivers don’t forget how to drive. We don’t just learn how to drive. It’s just a matter of putting all the puzzle pieces together.’’
Then it’s a matter of performing in a race.
“Every now and again I may feel like it’s a little tougher out there for me, and I feel like I’ve heard some people say it looks a little harder for me to get by cars, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and it makes me a better driver,’’ Patrick said. “At the end of the day, my job as a driver is to pass a car that is in front of me, so if it’s difficult then it’s just difficult and I have to work that much harder. That is my job. I’m not looking for a handout or anyone to move over unless you are lapped traffic.’’