Ed Carpenter’s attentiveness to Daytona 500 media day is at best minimal. In fairness, there is little reason for the Verizon IndyCar Series driver/owner to pay much attention.
The daily churn reached him from afar a few weeks ago, though, when Danica Patrick, in an uncharacteristic lapse of her normal message discipline, let slip during a group interview session that she had yet to “have time to meet up with Ed and the people” about her plans to race for the final time as a professional in the Indianapolis 500. Patrick had told IndyCar.com earlier in the week that her plans had been finalized, but she would not reveal the team, even when pressed if it was Ed Carpenter Racing.
Patrick’s subterfuge lasted about as long as her final run in a NASCAR race – she crashed after 101 of 207 laps and finished 35th – and within minutes of the interview bobble, Carpenter received a call from Patrick’s media relations handler warning him. Carpenter was almost relieved.
“I kind of found it funny, to be honest,” Carpenter told IndyCar.com. “I was curious and worried how GoDaddy would have responded, but looking back on it now, it’s funny. Was it the controlled release and did it entail all the messaging that we all wanted to get out? No. But at the same time, it’s a fun story for us to all sit around and laugh about.
“It was getting hard to deflect and to not feel like you were flat-out lying to people, so I was happy to be moving forward. I felt bad for her because she was there to focus on Daytona, so I was just staying out of the way and letting her do her thing down there.”
Now it’s their thing. Long-time benefactor GoDaddy returned for Patrick’s two-race coda, making the bid a plug-and-play business-wise. Ed Carpenter Racing confirmed today in an announcement that Patrick will drive the No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 27.
The process of picking a number was complicated in that Patrick’s two former IndyCar numbers – 16 and 7 – are claimed by other teams, as was the 10 she used through her full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. She opted for No. 13 as a concession as quasi proof that she’s not superstitious. Coincidentally, the No. 7 she used in the Daytona 500 plus the No. 13 she’ll use in her final Indianapolis 500 equals 20, which is the car number that Carpenter will use the race.
“I like the numerology,” Patrick said today in a phone interview with IndyCar.com.
The unveiling of Patrick’s car for May has not yet been scheduled. But the question remains if she will be the same as a driver, given that the Indy car she will employ is essentially two generations different than the one she used in her final Verizon IndyCar Series season in 2011.
Carpenter, who is contesting the ovals portion of the schedule again this season – with Jordan King handling street and road courses in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet – said he thinks the debut of a universal aerodynamic body kit this season will aid Patrick’s reacquaintance with open-wheel racing.
Patrick hasn’t driven the current Dallara IR-12 chassis (also called the DW-12 in memory of the late Dan Wheldon, who did much of the development testing) in use since the season after she left for NASCAR. She also missed completely the three years of aero kit competition between Chevy and Honda that wrapped up after 2017.
“If anything, I think the cars are more similar at this point now than they were in the aero kit era or the DW-12 era,” Carpenter said. “Personally, I feel like it’s a really good time for her to come back and I think she’ll fit back into it pretty quickly.”
Patrick is scheduled for a seat fitting at ECR sometime next week. She will participate in a late March test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Other than photographing the new steering wheel she will use and the cockpit for reference, the test will represent her first interface with the car.
She’s looking forward to it.
“I’m not a big fan of simulators,” Patrick said. “I’ve never been a person who liked video games and to put on top of it trying to do something actually productive for real life.”
Patrick said she expected her initial feel in the car to be “fuzzy.” She has an average finish of 8.7 in the Indianapolis 500, starting and finishing a then-gender-record fourth as a rookie in 2005. She became the first female to lead laps in the race, pacing 19, as late as Lap 193. She finished third there in 2009.
After Patrick made her surprise retirement announcement last November at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Carpenter consulted Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Co., which owns INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, about the possibility of Patrick driving for ECR. He couldn’t act until finalizing the team’s 2018 lineup. Spencer Pigot had already been hired to drive the No. 21 Chevrolet full time, but the team had not yet secured Carpenter’s non-ovals partner. King was named in January.
“I didn’t want to commit to anything at that point with Danica solely for the reason I didn’t want to limit our options of drivers if there was a driver/partner/sponsor that needed our road-course driver to be in a car in Indy, so we kind of had to slow-play it a little bit to get that in order first,” Carpenter said. “As great as it is now to be a part of the program with Danica, I can’t make decisions like that before I have our full-time program in place. But looking back on it now, it’s one of those things that worked themselves out the way they were supposed to do.
“I know Danica feels that way with a lot of things. She’s very relaxed these days and really enjoying this part of her process.”
Patrick said she has become so mentally comfortable with the mechanics of preparing for her final race that she “literally got lulled into just answering the question” when she mentioned “Ed” on Daytona 500 media day. “I’m very honest,” she added.
Carpenter doesn’t expect the media and fan frenzy surrounding Patrick to distract the team’s efforts. The entire paddock practiced the drill last season, he quipped, when Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso undertook a first Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport.
“We have a plan and it’s developing,” Carpenter said. “I was joking with somebody the other day and Alonso wasn’t on our team, but we still managed to talk about him every day. So it’s not like we’re the only people who are going to get asked how Danica is doing every day and what we think every day. It’s Indy. The whole month is a giant distraction. You always have to be more disciplined there with how you focus your energy and time.”
And what you let slip at an unexpected moment.