Danica Patrick will enter the 2017 NASCAR season with Stewart-Haas Racing with a new manufacturer (Ford) and uncertainty about the primary sponsorship on her car. The Associated Press reported Friday that SHR is suing Nature’s Bakery for breach of contract, accusing the company of refusing to pay millions of dollars it owes the team to sponsor Patrick this season. Patrick, who still hasn’t won a NASCAR Cup race in 154 career starts, has finished 24th in points the past two seasons and hasn’t finished in the top five in a race yet. She spoke recently with reporters and the Observer’s David Scott:
Q. Are your expectations for this season to finish in the top 15 in points?
A. Those are my goals. The goal is to do better all the time and hopefully some of the things that have changed within in our team – the big one being the changeover to Ford – will open up some opportunities and possibilities and just some pure potential for the team, and we can improve.
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If you’re in the top 15 every weekend, then you do a little bit better and then you’re in the top 10 and then once you’re in the top 10 with good pit stops, good strategy and all the things that play into it – some of the new formats for the races can play into segment wins. It’s important to be realistic, so to tell you to go out and win races and segments is not something I necessarily think is going to happen right away, but we’ll assess how strong we are as a team.
Q. Have you done anything different to prepare for this season?
A. I don’t think there’s a whole lot to do different. I’ve been more proactive with what it’s going to take to do better, so sitting down with (crew chief) Billy (Scott), I didn’t feel like we really ended up where we wanted to be last year. We felt like we would be better, so I asked the question, ‘What are we going to do different? Because if we’re going to do the same thing, we can only expect the same results. So what can we change that’s going to change that?’
I say all the time that if you want something you’ve never had before, you’re going to have to do something you’ve never done. I think ultimately the most important thing overall is that everybody shows up to work not to (just) work, but to work great and be great. What can we do different? There are some answers and there are some that you don’t have answers for because if you knew the exact answer to be better, you would have done it already.
Q. With all your off-track activities – your book, the exercise line, your hobbies – is it wrong to presume you’re building something for your post-racing career?
A. Yeah, you’re wrong in thinking that’s the purpose. The things that I have done outside of racing that all really are happening because of racing are really just hobbies and I’ve wanted a clothing line for 10 years. The book with recipes, I mean I cook like crazy. I cook all the time. Anybody that follows me knows that I do that, and I always have, so a lot of this stuff is really just easy and second nature. That’s more what it’s about, just following through on what do I do with these ideas, and things that I do and making some of my hobbies turn into something bigger.
Q. Is it frustrating or encouraging to see your teammates win races and be consistently competitive?
A. It’s a great thing when your teammates are fast because you know that there is potential. It’s just figuring out how you get there. That’s the question that needs an answer and figuring it out is the challenge. NASCAR is very hard and there’s definitely a great amount of experience around me, and there are some substitutes for that. So the more experience I get, the better I’ll be at being prepared to do well, but beyond that then I have resources, which is always a positive.
Q. Do you think the change in the points system will be beneficial?
A. The new structure for the races is cool. Winning is something that for a fan it’s easy to understand and for a really casual fan it’s even easier to understand. I think that having a lot more winners every week and throughout the year is a cool thing. But this is definitely going to be a big chore for the crew chiefs. If I were them, I would already be nervous or trying to think of scenarios. I’d probably be waking up or going to bed thinking, ‘If this happened and then we were running here, but we were fast …’
You’re running through all these scenarios in your head with ‘what would you do?’ As a driver goes, I do try and drive the fastest laps I can every single lap. I’m doing my best unless there’s a reason to slow down. It’s going to be exciting as long as the information of the format can be translated to the fan or average fan in a simple, understandable way.”