Danica Patrick. Contract year. They’re intertwined for the immediate future.
March 27, 2009
Patrick expects that question to pop up at every stop on the IndyCar Series’ April-October caravan just as that question of when will she win her first race did. Patrick, who answered the latter last April at Twin Ring Motegi in her 50th start, will use the unfolding season as a reply regarding her auto racing future.
Patrick, the first female to win a major closed-course auto race, enters her third season with Andretti Green Racing and fourth overall in the series next week at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“For me, in my career, I have to be in a situation where I can do well, because that’s what drives the rest of it,” says Patrick, who as of early this year is being represented by IMG. “I think all (I) care about is winning races and running up front. It’s always good to do well when you’re in a contract year, but people who are in the business are aware of what I’m capable of and they pay attention for more than just a couple of races or a half a season to see what I’m doing. I would hope more of my career would speak that just this year.
“It is one more thing on the plate and I’m happy to say when there are more things going on it seems I’m able to thrive on that and do well. Like a few years when the contract came up there were things to talk about and there will probably be more this year.”
Patrick, who turned 27 on March 25, finished a career-best sixth in the ‘08 championship on the strength of 10 top-10 finishes in 17 races (running at the finish in 15). Overall, she has 36 top 10s and three pole starts in 64 events.
“As more experience is taken in and I get more comfortable with the simple things like what we’re doing today or how the races unfold, it becomes a few less things to worry about each year,” she says. “The bottom line is, especially starting last year when Champ Car (drivers) came over, it’s more challenging. I felt my road course racing had improved and had a couple of front-row starts (in 2007). All of a sudden last year it was ‘Oh, you have to kick it up another notch.’ ”
The Andretti Green Racing driver foursome returns intact for the first time since 2005, though there have been behind-the-pit-wall shakeups. Team co-owner Michael Andretti will be Patrick’s race strategist (moving from his son Marco’s car) and Eddie Jones (Marco’s former engineer) will be the engineer on her No. 7 Motorola car.
“It’s always nice to have a little bit of continuity, especially among the drivers,” she says. “It’s such an important dynamic, especially for Andretti Green. For me, everything has stayed the same this year except for the other half of the big core.”
And Patrick expects big things on the track.
“Every year our expectations are high,” she says. “It’s the first race that kicks in where we’re like, ‘Oh, OK, I see what we need to work on.’ It really does take the race season to see where you unfold, but every year we expect to be competitive.”
Both Kanaan and Michael Andretti, who have been through the contract year rumors and innuendo, point to Patrick’s focus on the racetrack as a means of combating inherent distractions.
“Everybody is going to have an opinion about what she should do or shouldn’t do,” Kanaan says. “It comes with the territory. You know, you attract attention, you’re famous, you’re going to create controversy every time, no matter what you do, good or bad. It’s about how you deal with the situation and not let this pressure actually interfere with what you really want, what your goals are and what you have to do.”
Added Andretti: “I think we all know what we need to do with Danica, she knows what she needs to do, and we’re hoping that she’s going to be here for a long time. She hasn’t expressed anything to us that would lead us to believe that she doesn’t want to be here.”