DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Danica Patrick’s talking about challenges that lay ahead, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon aren’t saying whether they have patched their differences, and Brad Keselowski is eager to defend his Sprint Cup title.
That’s right, the start of another NASCAR season is just around the corner.
Patrick said Thursday that she does not plan to race in this year’s Indianapolis 500 because she wants to concentrate on her first full-time season on NASCAR’s highest level of competition.
Bowyer brushed aside questions about whether he and Gordon have made up in the months that have passed since a fight between the two drivers’ crews broke out after Gordon intentionally wrecked Bowyer the week before last season’s finale.
“Who cares? Really, who cares?” Bowyer said to the media on the first day of testing of NASCAR’s new “Gen 6″ cars at Daytona International Speedway. “Apparently, you guys do way more than we do. I can promise you that.”
Keselowski is still riding high after capturing his first Sprint Cup championship in 2012. He was the first driver on the track for the start of three days of testing in preparation for next month’s Daytona 500, even if he wound up running fairly low on the speed charts.
“I am not happy not being fast. I can tell you that, but you try to put it in perspective of how much work is yet to be done over the next month or month-and-a-half,” Keselowski said. “Being first on the track … is our little way of needling the competition to say that even if we aren’t fastest we are going to be the first ones on it.”
Patrick, who announced on her Facebook page in November that she and her husband, Paul Hospenthal, are divorcing after seven years of marriage, also skipped the Indy 500 last year.
Instead, she ran in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the same day, and intends to do it again.
Patrick is coming off her first full season in NASCAR, a year in which she ran a full Nationwide schedule and 10 Sprint Cup Series races after leaving IndyCar.
“The team and I decided to focus on (Sprint) Cup. It’s going to be plenty of work as it is, and it’s going to be important for me running for the championship full-time for the first time to really keep myself focused with the Cup car,” Patrick said. “‘But If I do do the Indy 500 moving forward, it will be with Go Daddy.”
She said her 2013 schedule also could include some Nationwide series events, although she has not yet signed a deal with a racing team or sponsor.
“I’m not sure if that’s completely set. There have been some reports that have come out about running for Turner, and we’re definitely talking to them trying to figure it out,” Patrick said. “We’re definitely working on that, but there’s been nothing signed yet, and the exact dates and the sponsor has yet to be confirmed for all that.”
Essentially, the Daytona testing marks the end of the offseason for drivers.
There’s more testing next week in Charlotte of the cars NASCAR is counting to improve racing and re-kindle fan interest, with Speedweeks at Daytona to follow. The Daytona 500 kicks off the Sprint Cup schedule on Feb. 24.
“Everybody is super excited about this race car and what it brings to our sport and the identity that it brings back to passenger cars you see on the roads. … They’re certainly cool looking,” Bowyer said.
Bowyer declined to say whether reports that he and Gordon spent time together on a yacht on New Year’s Eve.
“I think he was on that same boat. There were a lot of other people on that boat. It was a big time being had,” Bowyer said at one point.
When asked if the drivers had spent any time bonding, Bowyer responded: “Yeah, we held hands and walked off the boat, discussed the past year and enjoyed ourselves throughout the whole vacation. That was the one person that I definitely wanted to take vacation with. Yes, I could not wait to get there for that very reason. Is that what you wanted me to say?”