FORT WORTH, Texas -- Danica Patrick will admit, she likes to buy fancy things. She likes to eat in fancy restaurants. She likes to drink fancy wine.
But when it comes to racing, she's old-school at heart.
"It's more fun, to be honest," she said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. "It's just more fun. I think back to being a kid and go-kart racing, and that sort of style is why I love NASCAR in general. Everything from the language to describe the car, to the style of people and camaraderie. It just reminds me of growing up and racing all over the East Coast and the South. It's more normal to me than probably what I did for over 10 years."
That would be racing in open-wheel cars, first in Europe and then on the IndyCar tour. Those throwback sensibilities are a big reason why Patrick feels so comfortable with her new crew chief, Tony Gibson, with whom she's working with for the first time during the Sprint Cup weekend in Fort Worth. Gibson is old-school to the core, dating back to his days with Bill Elliott, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Inc. He and his new driver probably won't be sharing a nice cabernet anytime soon. But when it comes to the race cars, they seem on the same wavelength, which to Gibson is what matters most.
Gibson replaces Stewart-Haas Racing competition director Greg Zipadelli on the No. 10 pit box, and will also oversee Patrick's full-time Sprint Cup effort next season. He remembers how well Patrick got along with Tony Eury Jr., her first crew chief on the Nationwide Series, and sees himself cut from the same cloth.
"I just think the biggest thing is, Tony Jr. and Danica got along really well, and I worked with Tony Jr., we're great friends, and we worked together for several years at DEI," Gibson said. "So I think [marrying] us together is a better fit. It's a good fit for my race team. We're old-school, redneck racers ... and I think that fits Danica pretty good. I think they've done a good job as a company at Stewart-Haas putting the right people with Danica, and her with us. Because we're going to grow together. We're going to grow fast. There are going to be some bumps in the road. But my team is ready for that."
And indeed, the whole of what was once SHR's No. 39 team is following Gibson, who most recently worked with Ryan Newman. "Everybody on the 39 had an option as to what they wanted to do as a team," Gibson said. "It took them about 30 seconds to answer back that they were on board."
Patrick will compete in Sprint Cup events at Texas and Phoenix as she also winds down her full-time Nationwide efforts. Goals next season, Gibson said, will be "small and achievable," like finishing practice in the far left column on the scoring monitor. Success will be determined less by results than by how well the team communicates and bonds together, and Patrick's new crew chief sees the final races of this year as crucial toward that effort.
"We don't want her to adapt to our setups, we want to adapt to her driving style," Gibson said. "So these two races will be crucial in getting a head start on that, so over the winter time we can make plans and do some testing and get further on down the road. She has the capability of winning races. She's a winner. So we don't have to teach her how to win. We just have to make sure our race team is solid and can ... give her the things she needs to win in the Cup Series."
And do a little old-school bonding to boot. Although Patrick made her name in open-wheel cars, and clearly hasn't closed the door on another run at the Indianapolis 500, she said NASCAR reminds her more of where she started, racing go-karts 40 or 50 times a year. The people, the atmosphere, the schedule, the terminology -- to her, it all feels so much more natural than the circuit that made her a star.
"It's more normal to me than probably what I was doing," Patrick said. "From the first time I got in a stock car, it was at [Walt Disney World] Speedway several years ago, and I pulled out onto the track and I was like -- oh my God, what have I been doing? I feel like I'm at home. I felt comfortable, and felt like I was where I was supposed to be."
No wonder she and Gibson seem so content together. "Opposites attract," the crew chief joked. Maybe one day, they will even split a bottle of wine.
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