When the reigning queen of NASCAR held a press gathering at the Auto Club Speedway this morning, prior to the first practice and qualifying for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, the subject of hot dogs came up.
Danica Patrick says she can only do a half Martinsville dog. No matter how good it might be. Just because that’s how she rolls.
We talked to her following practice for a Q-and-A that will run in Sunday’s editions, quizzing her more on her chances of making the “Dancing With the Stars” field rather than the final 43 in any left-turn event this season.
Before she went out and qualified 40th today, Patrick answered things about how unhappy she was with the Fontana Speedway’s surface, her performance after four NASCAR races so far, and other stuff — all leading up to that frank question about her distaste for certain wieners:
Q: Are you looking forward to racing at this Auto Club Speedway track?
A: “Over the years, Fontana has continued to deteriorate and get a little bit challenging and be more slippery. The bumps are bigger and the car moves around a lot more. I think for me I am more comfortable at high grip tracks so I don’t know if this is necessarily something that suits my style as much.
“One time here I had a really good car at the end of my first year. I felt really comfortable here, really good. Every other time I have been here I feel like it has been pretty challenging. It can change very quickly. I can go out there and be comfortable right off the bat and have a good weekend or not. It’s one of those tracks. Definitely there is a lot of room to move around if you are not comfortable and try and find a place to get there.”
Q: How would you evaluate your first four weeks as a NASCAR rookie?
A: “We had a great start at Daytona. Had a great car, had a good race and just steady the whole way through. Since then I think I have actually been a little bit surprised how we unload. We have been closer unloading than I would have expected. Instead of progressing or staying there we have kind of fallen off throughout the weekend. I think that we just need to strike a good balance when it comes to qualifying and the race. Qualifying is the first step. I have been loose every single time in qualifying. That puts you in the back. You are already starting off down in the race. I have been loose every race except for the last one where we were really tight, but we kind of anticipated it. Then we found out after we got done last weekend that the right-front tow was out pretty far from a hit really early in the race in the first five or ten laps. That kind of explains some of our challenges last weekend at Bristol. We just have to get the car balanced right when it counts which is qualifying and race.”
Q: All the Stewart-Haas cars have seemed to struggle a little bit the last few weeks. Have you figured out why that might be?
A: “I’m not really sure. I don’t know if it’s a matter of … it seems to me and I’m not very smart at this stuff yet, I don’t have a great feel for it. I feel like Tony (Stewart) or Ryan (Newman) would have a far better answer for you. We were really good when it came to speed and the speedway. I don’t know. Then we went testing at Charlotte and all of a sudden it kind of switched so I don’t know. Maybe we just need to find some grip. We are good when it comes to going fast, but when it comes to getting the car locked down on the track maybe we need to find some downforce. I don’t know I mean I think the last few weeks have been very important. That is the bulk of the season to be honest. Again, I’m not the best at this kind of stuff. All I know is that as a team it’s not for a lack of trying and we will figure it out. For me and the No. 10 car, I know that we just need to get the car much closer when it counts.”
Q: How do you tackle that issue of not improving the car from how you unload?
A: “If I had the answer of how to turn it around we would just do it. Obviously, it’s not that easy. I mean all I can say is we got to Phoenix unloaded well and then we went into qualifying trim and all of a sudden the car was bouncing around and we never really got it back. (Las) Vegas we had a lot of testing and the car unloaded okay. Then over, it was really tight the first day then it was really loose the second practice day. Then we were loose in qualifying, extremely loose in the race. We are just missing it. Bristol it was decent to start and then we just started struggling more and more with entry and getting the car to turn in the center. It just seemed very challenging to strike that balance between entry and mid-corner. I just feel like in general I feel like we are working on a pretty small window of grip where it’s easy to push it over one way or the other. We just need to have a bigger platform to work around so that we can be decent more of the time instead of only when we hit it perfectly. To me grip is always the answer if we can just widen that platform we will be better off much more of the time.”
Q: Has it been frustrating thus far?
A: “I mean, every weekend you find there is good and there is bad to it. You are going to remember the end of it the most. Phoenix, blowing a right-front tire then the next couple of weeks just not getting the balance right for the race those are just things that happen. You can’t let it get you down and you can’t be mad. I of course wanted…I know that I have a lot to learn and I know that as a group we have a lot to learn together to figure out where the car is best for me so we can be closer more of the weekend, but we will get it. I’m not discouraged or afraid at this point for anything. This is just the process that we go through. We will be fine.”
Q: You have raced on four different types of tracks so far. Which one do you feel most comfortable going back to? Which do you feel you need a little more work on?
A: “I feel like that is pretty obvious that Daytona would be my answer. I think that in Phoenix we were starting to get a little bit closer in the race and we blew the tire. I feel relatively comfortable at short tracks. I think the mile-and-a-half’s are, oddly enough, I feel like one of the bigger challenges because if the car is not right there are so many more lanes to race on that the leaders come really fast. You are working at a higher speed and that grip is a premium. We are going to find our good races and bad races and I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be about what kind of track it is. I think our speedway stuff is really good at this point.”
Q: As a team, does Stewart-Haas Racing, all three guys outside the Top 20, are you worried as a team at all? How do you bounce back?
A: “We have…I don’t even know how many races … 34, 35? 32, there we go. I don’t even know how many races we have because there are so many. You never like to have down weekends but they are definitely going to happen. We will work through our weekend and figure out how to get better for the next one that is all you can do.”
Q: Do you take any pride that you will be the first female to ever drive at Martinsville (in the next stop, April 7 in Virginia)?
A: “Well between that and never having a Martinsville hot dog, I guess there is probably going to be lots of firsts there that weekend. I am actually really excited about Martinsville. I like the little short tracks, they are fun. We are going to be close racing a lot of the time. We went testing out at Little Rock and got a feel for a track like Martinsville. I thought we actually made some really big gains that day. It was fun. Is there time to look down at your water and oil temperatures? No, there is not. I think it will be fun and I had no idea that a woman had not competed at Martinsville, but I guess these are things I will find out along the way.”
Q: Are you really going to have a hot dog?
A: “I will at least have half of a hot dog. I’m a half person. I have half of a cookie, half of a brownie, half of a hot dog.”