Danica Patrick said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway that she would be comforted by having a Dan Wheldon tribute helmet on her head, and Wheldon's giant "LIONHEART" tribute paint scheme on her car hood.
Patrick said her sponsor GoDaddy partnered with her to "pay tribute to Dan, a great champion that he was and great guy that he was, and then I decided it would nice to pay tribute with my helmet (photos below) and then donate it to DanWheldonMemorial.com to be auctioned off. My hope is we can do everything possible to come together and to honor Dan and support Susie and the kids. I'm honored and it's a privilege. Thank you to everyone who made it come together. It's a special car this weekend."
Patrick said she was glad to be back in the car, but also glad to have two weeks to decompress after Wheldon died on Oct. 16 during an IndyCar race at Las Vegas, the last of the season.
"It was really nice to just have a couple of weeks off and create some space between that weekend and those emotions and getting back out on the race track again," Patrick said during a news conference between her NASCAR Nationwide practices at Texas Motor Speedway. "Hopefully it will be a great weekend, and I'm going to donate my prize money to the Dan Wheldon Foundation, so hopefully it will be a great weekend for that reason."
Patrick said she also went through a death on the track in 2006 when Paul Dana died of injuries sustained during morning warm-up at Homestead. Dana was her teammate at Rahal Letterman Racing at the time. She said both deaths were "a tragedy and it's terrible and nothing anybody wants to happen, but hopefully everyone can learn and be better for it and be safer from it."
A stock car does feel safer than an IndyCar, Patrick said, a feeling she noticed from her first time in a NASCAR car two years ago. "Obviously a lot of the serious injuries in IndyCar come from head injuries (Wheldon died from head injuries), so being covered like that (in a stock car), there is definitely a level of comfort. I'm pleased to have a roof over my head this weekend."
The safety aspects of each car did not play a role in Patrick's decision to leave IndyCar for NASCAR, however.
"My decision to race in NASCAR came as a result of being able to, and having a sponsor that was willing to go with, me but then after that it's really about where I had the most fun racing," she said. "I have the most fun racing these cars. If you were to put an IndyCar and a stock car on the track and be by yourself forever, I think the IndyCar does some pretty amazing things, but the point of it is you go racing against people, and I really enjoy racing these cars so that's why I decided to do this."
She's also made the mental transition from IndyCar driver to NASCAR driver, something that has prevented her from pondering the challenges facing IndyCar too deeply.
"I've been describing it as first day of the rest of my life," she said. "So I am all in here, and this is where my thoughts and my focus are. As I said to people (in IndyCar) when I left, I'll be watching and I'm sure there will be moments when I think I wish I was out there, because it looks fun, but that's pretty much going to be the extent of it for me, is being a spectator."
One area where Patrick may NOT be a just a spectator is the Indy 500. Patrick reaffirmed her desire to run the Indy 500 if possible, and said Wheldon's death did nothing to diminish that desire.
"I'd love to do Indy," she said. "In my opinion it's the greatest race in the world. I have so many feelings and emotions and memories (of Indy) and I still feel like I have memories to create so no, that (the Las Vegas crash) won't affect my decision."
Special thanks to Sully Bean (@sullybean1) for the use of her photo of Danica's car hood.