Danica Patrick always spoke her mind as a race car driver and promises to provide the same candor as an NBC studio analyst for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
The retired INDYCAR and NASCAR driver reiterated after Wednesday’s announcement that she can only be herself when she joins Mike Tirico in the studio for NBC’s first broadcast of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on Sunday, May 26.
“Oh yes, can’t change my stripes,” Patrick said with a chuckle on a media conference call. “I think I’ll have some extra insight and understand some storylines better. As a driver, you don’t really care about the rest of them, you just want to beat them. As someone who is paying attention to the storylines going on and the drivers individually and hearing the stories and watching them unfold, there will probably be more of a sensitivity chip to all of it.
“But at the same time, I won’t be afraid to call out the subtleties that exist on track that perhaps the viewer or someone who hasn’t been on track would know. The way that the air moves from car to car, behind and alongside and in front, and how you can manipulate other cars based on your line and the little things that you do. I’ve definitely watched plenty of racing and commentary on it. I can watch it and see what’s happening and they’re like, ‘Well, he didn’t touch him.’ And I’m like, he didn’t have to. I understand how it works.”
Then she reassured, “Don’t worry, I won’t be afraid to give my opinion.”
The normal NBC Sports booth trio of lead announcer Leigh Diffey and analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will call the race action as NBC broadcasts the Indianapolis 500 for the first time. Tirico and Patrick, the only woman to win a major open-wheel series race, will provide prerace, in-race and postrace insights. Patrick will also be part of NBC’s Indy 500 qualifications broadcast on May 19 and will assist in promoting the race across NBCUniversal’s platforms leading up to race day.
The Indianapolis 500 is special for the seven-year NTT IndyCar Series veteran, who burst onto the national scene as a rookie in 2005, when she became the first woman to lead a lap in that race. She finished fourth, was named rookie of the year for the race and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week.
Her Indy car highlight came when she triumphed in the Indy Japan 300 in 2008. Her NASCAR resume included being the first woman to win the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2013. She retired last season after completing the “Danica Double,” racing in the Indy 500 and Daytona 500 in the same year.
Patrick, who will turn 37 on Monday, is ever mindful and appreciative of the role her first Indy 500 played in jettisoning her career.
“Every time I come to Indianapolis, especially when I come to the track itself and I drive through the tunnel and I come in and I can see the Pagoda and I can just feel the track. I always have,” said Patrick, who had six top-10 finishes in seven tries at Indy, including a best of third in 2009.
“I’ve always had a deep respect for Indianapolis Motor Speedway as your best and worst friend. It’s the track that we would go the very fastest on. We were threading the needle a lot of the time. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some really great races there. Really, the Indy 500 is where it all started for me as a well-known race car driver, or what was called back in the day ‘Danica Mania.’
“If I was going to be a part of a broadcast, the Indy 500 tops the list. It’s somewhere I feel like, again I say this a lot, but it feels like home. There’s so much deep history there for me. Then I have like this other perspective of home. My whole family lives there, my sister, my parents, they all live in Indianapolis.”
Sam Flood, executive producers and president of production for NBC Sports and NBCSN, knew the network needed an experienced voice like Patrick’s to bolster the broadcast of such an important event. He wanted someone who is “fearless” in and out of the car.
“To pair her with Mike Tirico, we thought would be a winning combination,” Flood said. “It’s more than a race. It’s an event. It’s one of those points in the calendar you look to, and we want to make sure we celebrate this event in the most amazing way possible.”
Patrick admits she didn’t pay much attention to the build-up to the race when she was driving. She preferred to stay focused on her job and not let the magnitude of the event affect her emotions.
Now, Patrick will have an opportunity to appreciate the full spectrum. And when her time comes to provide insight, she assures she will be ready to punch her points, Danica style.
“Anyone that’s listened to me for too, too long knows I don’t have (role models) because I think the worst mistake you can try and do is to be like somebody else,” she said. “Now, you can learn tips and tricks of the trade, and I will be leaning hard on Mike for that and the people that work around him, the NBC crew and the professionalism they bring to the table and the knowledge.
“But being me will be what makes me good, if I can deliver that in a nice way in a good package. You can’t be anyone else.”
Tickets for month of May activities at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including the INDYCAR Grand Prix on Saturday, May 11 and the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 26, are available at IMS.com. NBC has live coverage of both NTT IndyCar Series races, starting at 3 p.m. ET May 11 for the INDYCAR Grand Prix and 11 a.m. May 26 for the Indy 500.