National Press Club

Danica Patrick tells NPC many can win Daytona 500, promises 'her best' in debut

February 21, 2012 | By William Miller |

NASCAR Driver Danica Patrick, foreground, and NPC President Theresa Werner

NASCAR Driver Danica Patrick, foreground, and NPC President Theresa Werner

Photo/Image: Al Teich

Danica Patrick, America’s auto racing sweetheart, warned a National Press Club luncheon audience Feb. 21 not to “set expectations too high” as she prepares for her first appearance in the Daytona 500 stock car race Feb. 26 and debut in NASCAR’s top-level Sprint Cup series.

Patrick, the 5 ft., 2 in., 100 lb., driver, who parlayed her record as the most successful woman in the open-wheel IndyCar circuit into fame as a model and corporate spokeswoman, made clear that she is out to win.

Focusing on NASCAR fulltime this year after splitting time between open-wheel and stock cars in 2011, Patrick, promised to “embrace my new chapter with the same will and energy” that marked her IndyCar success.

"I want to be the best Danica I can be,” she said.

Because of new NASCAR rules, “There are a lot of drivers who have the opportunity to do well,” Patrick said, five days before NASCAR’s most-prestigious event and annual kickoff of its Sprint Cup series.

The race, Patrick noted, will “bring back old-style racing that will be exciting." The new NASCAR regulations, she explained, break up two-car tandems and return to racing by packs of cars favored by fans. ”There likely will be more accidents because you can’t get out of the way.”

As a result, Patrick said, more drivers will have a shot at the winners’ circle.

Speaking without notes, Patrick, 29, reviewed her career, which started in her native Illinois as a 10-year-old racing go-karts to share an activity with her father. In her first race, she said, “I couldn’t even keep up in parade lap,” she said.

“I loved seeing improvement,” Patrick said. She described her decision to drop out of high school to race in England, where she could “gain more experience in one year than I could in five years in the U.S.”

Upon her return to the U.S., Patrick said, “the Indy 500 came and went, and all of a sudden, Danica Patrick was born.” In 2005, she became the first woman to lead a lap at Indianapolis, and in 2009 finished third -- the highest finish by a female driver.

Patrick also was the first woman to win an IndyCar series race, capturing the Japan 300 in 2008.

Throuighout her career, Patrick said that for her "success never was about being the best girl. It was about being the best." But, she admitted, "I love being a girl away from the track."

Patrick has enjoyed doing commercials (she’s shot notable ones for and modeling (including an appearance in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue). “I never do anything out of my comfort zone,” she said.

Despite her switch to fulltime stock car racing, Patrick said she is open to someday returning to IndyCars. But, racing both types during the last two years, she said, “proved to me that I love driving stock cars. It gets my blood boiling.”

One reason she likes stock cars, Patrick said, is that “you are able to run bumper to bumper,” which creates excitement. As for new skills she’ll need, she predicted that “the learning curve will be quick.”