As a race driver Danica Patrick could be considered extremely successful. She has made her mark in Indy Car Series racing and has done remarkably well with NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing, as well (particularly during qualifying rounds). As an advertising and media sensation, spokes-person, commentator, and model her confidence seems limitless but there is one thing that apparently gets under her skin. It is three-quarters-of-a-mile long, 60-feet wide, with a 10-foot apron and it is called the Richmond International Raceway. It is also the site of the Toyota Owners 400, taking place on Saturday, April, 26, 2014. She admittedly hates this track, where she has experienced extremely limited success in the past, but could learn to love it during just one-night of blissful achievement.
This “short-track” proposes a unique set of challenges for most racing teams because of its “D” shaped oval configuration. This shape means that one end of the track differs greatly from the other, making it difficult for drivers to find their “groove.” Turns one and four have a turning radius of 4:1198.68, while turns two and three break-it-down to 3:365.0, while suddenly banking to a pitch of 14-degrees. The front straightaway is 1,290-feet in length with 8-degrees of banking and the back straightaway measures 860-feet with 2-degrees of banking. This translates into a race track that is constantly changing underneath your machine. Combine all of these challenges with the peculiarities of a 400-mile race that begins at dusk and continues into the night and you begin to understand Danica’s aversion to this venue. As the sun goes down on Richmond International Speedway (located just outside of the Richmond, Virginia city limits, in Henrico, Virginia) and the twilight shadows sweep across the track, changes in track and tire temperature can vary enough to make even the most experienced crew-chief throw in the towel. Somewhere between nine and fourteen tire changes are expected on every vehicle competing in this race which will last for approximately three-hours.
Now, add to this monster of a track forty-three of the most insanely powerful endurance racing machines on the planet. Regardless of their qualifying position, each of these highly competitive racers believes that he, or she, is capable of winning the race. Although Danica readily admits that she has never found her groove at Richmond in a stock-car, she has experienced some degree of success in open-wheeled IndyCar racing on this track where she performed well from 2005 through 2009. While racing in the IndyCar Series, she managed a fifteenth place finish, a tenth place finish, two-sixth place, and one fifth-place finishes. While I realize that success is a relative term; these finishes (at Richmond International Speedway) are pretty impressive.
Nevertheless, in a race that is particularly demanding, for cars and drivers, Danica has garnered considerable criticism from her fellow-racers; some of whom are very outspoken about her abilities (or the presumed lack thereof). One need venture no farther than the local dirt-track (I hope that you have a local dirt track and if you do not, then move) to realize that nerves are raw and emotions are high during any contest of speed. At times an inordinate amount of emphasis is placed on statements that are made during the “heat of competition.” Sports media outlets all over the globe latched onto statements made by Danica’s racing comrades (via two-way radio communication between drivers and spotters) during some of her less fortunate moments on the track. These comments were held-up as gospel by the media in a blatant attempt to incite controversy — and it has worked. While I am certainly not the most modern of individuals, and many might even call me old-fashioned, I can say that if Danica’s car is right tonight and she gets into her groove, you had better watch out. She has talent and she has proven it in the past.
Talk about a high-stress moment — testosterone will be in abundance at this massive conglomeration of “good ol’ boys” in Richmond tonight. It will be running rampant in drivers, mechanics, car-owners, and fans alike. By the time that all of the fans and personnel are gathered into this small oval, over 100,000 will be in attendance under the lights. With the Stewart-Haas Racing team coming off an improved finish of twenty-second last week at one of NASCAR’s traditional “cooking pots” of competition (Darlington Raceway), crew chief Tony Gibson feels confident about the team’s focus and Danica’s ability to put the number 10 GoDaddy car in the winner’s circle. “Like I told her, that’s a place where, if you can just be patient and race the racetrack, you’ll end up with a good finish. We fought all night and, as a team, we worked well together — pit stops and everything — so I feel like it was a win for our team. Each week, we build on what we know from last year, and we learn more, and I think we’re able to definitely take positives from each race we’ve run and build on that. I’m really proud of what we accomplished at Darlington, and I think we’re going to have to have that same kind of focus heading into Richmond.”