LONG POND — Danica Patrick doesn’t mind being one of the guys. She’s also fine with being the only female driver in a sport dominated by men throughout its history.
“I don’t think I’ve ever said specifically I want to be judged as a driver and not a girl driver,” Patrick said Wednesday morning during a break in NASCAR Sprint Cup testing at Pocono Raceway. “People have asked me how I want people to think about me or remember me when I’m done. I’ve said I want to be remembered as a very good driver and not a good girl driver. Although that could be part of it.”
The paradox fits in nicely with her Stewart-Haas teammates — Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. Stewart has a sarcastic side to him. Newman possesses a dry wit. The trio played off each others comments Wednesday like a comedy team.
“You just have to come to one of our debriefs and you’ll definitely have the answer to your question,” Stewart said. “I can tell you I don’t embarrass easy. And these two talking and some of the conversations they have, I’m like ‘Oh, God, I have to go get a Coke.’ I can promise you she’s just another person out there and fits in just fine.”
Patrick has always had a way of blending in with the opposite sex. It started at an early age and continued through her racing career that took off with a fourth-place finish in the 2005 Indianapolis 500.
“I’ve always been able to fit in with the guys really well,” Patrick said. “Since I was 10 years old, I spent more time with guys than girls. Gosh, I can remember being in grade school and having all the girls being mad at me because I got along with all the guys so well. I understand them, I understand the way they joke around. I don’t take anything too seriously. It’s very easy, just like if I spent all my time with girls.”
The next step for Patrick is to go from a NASCAR curiosity to a steady performer. Although a rookie, her 22 Cup starts are second most in series history by a female. Only Janet Guthrie, whose last race was in 1980, has more with 33.
The results thus far haven’t been good. After a career-high eighth at the season-opening Daytona 500, Patrick hasn’t finished in the top 10. She is 30th in the standings, but Stewart has been impressed.
“I think people underestimate how good she is right out of the box at tracks and how good she is about figuring out race tracks,” Stewart said. “Honestly, the 10 races she ran last year and the races she’s run this year, we haven’t had to do a lot of coaching with her.”
Patrick’s hand-timed laps were about a second slower than laps by Newman and Paul Menard, who was also at Pocono with Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick for two days of testing in preparation for the Party in the Poconos 400 Presented by Walmart on June 9.
“We made five laps, so I really don’t know a whole lot yet,” Patrick said. “It seems like a neat place, definitely a unique track. I have a long way to go to get up to speed and get comfortable around here and start working on the car.”
At least she has Stewart and Newman — past winners at Pocono Raceway — to help her … maybe.
“I didn’t tell her anything. Make her learn like everybody else,” Stewart deadpanned. “Honestly, I haven’t told her anything yet because I haven’t been that good here lately.”