Danica Patrick: Change and Familiarity at Daytona

Danica Patrick’s 2014 Budweiser Speedweeks at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway will be different than the 2013 version. But the driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) wants to at least experience some similarities.

Two changes stand out: Patrick’s participation in the non-points Sprint Unlimited on Feb. 15, and the move of the Budweiser Duel 150-mile qualifying races from its traditional Thursday afternoon slot to Thursday night under the lights (Feb. 20).

Patrick’s participation in the Sprint Unlimited comes via her historic pole position in last year’s Daytona 500, when she became the first woman to ever qualify in the top spot for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. All 17 drivers that won a Sprint Cup pole in 2013 are eligible, as are Terry Labonte, Ken Schrader and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart, all of whom are past winners of the event.

The exhibition race will give Patrick valuable track time in race conditions, which will help her prepare for the Budweiser Duel and the 56th Daytona 500. Her car for the Sprint Unlimited will be familiar, Chassis No. 10-758, which Patrick drove when she started on the pole and finished a career-best eighth in last year’s Daytona 500.

In addition to her history-making pole run and Daytona 500 finish, Patrick also led twice for five laps to become the first female to lead NASCAR’s most prestigious race and the first woman to lead a Sprint Cup race under green. Janet Guthrie previously led five laps under caution in 1977 at Ontario (Calif.) Motor Speedway.

Her car for qualifying, the Budweiser Duel and the Daytona 500 will be Chassis No. 10-835, a brand new GoDaddy Chevrolet built by Daytona Beach native Tony Gibson and his veteran crew. It has performed well in wind-tunnel tests and will make its on-track debut during the first Daytona 500 practice on Saturday, Feb. 15.

With an extra race and the format of Budweiser Speedweeks changing, Patrick, Gibson and the GoDaddy crew are prepared for a different experience at Daytona than the one they cultivated 12 months ago. But the same successful mindset they employed last year at Daytona is in place again this year, bolstering their chances for another strong showing on NASCAR’s biggest stage.