Danica Patrick prepares for first Brickyard 400

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When Danica Patrick made her Indianapolis 500 debut in 2005, she quickly asserted herself as a contender and could have won the race if not for fuel woes that forced her to slow down in the final laps. Not many are expecting her to have as memorable a run in her first Brickyard 400 this weekend, but the Sprint Cup rookie is still looking forward to returning to Indy.

“I don’t care what I drive around Indy, I love being there,” said Patrick, who finished 35th in last year’s inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I just like everything about it. I like the facility, obviously. And, to me, the special thing about Indy is, obviously, I’ve had great experiences, but it’s about the track.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of car I drive there, I’ve had great experiences, memories. So that’s what I like so much about it. And I love the tradition. The older I get, the more I realize how much history and tradition plays a role in what’s important and what matters and what means the most to you.”

Patrick is aiming to become the first female competitor in Brickyard 400 history this weekend. Up to this point, the only other female that’s attempted to compete in an Cup race at IMS has been Shauna Robinson, who failed to qualify for the 2001 running.

Making the show would be another accomplishment at IMS for Patrick, who was a steady racer in her Indy 500 career. From 2005 to 2011, she notched six Top-10s in seven appearances in the world’s greatest race, and her third-place effort in 2009 stands as the best result for a woman in ‘500’ history.

For now at least, that chapter of her career is over. But Patrick’s respect for Indy is still very much evident.

“I just feel like I’ve had a lot of different experiences here that can help me and, again, it’s just a special place where I feel like from the beginning I’ve always really believed that you have to show this track respect, and it will hopefully show you the respect back,” she said.

“I’ve always thought that and, especially in IndyCar, this place can bite you pretty big. I don’t think it’s too much different in a stock car, to be honest. It’s just a very familiar place.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.