Danica Patrick takes her downtime when and where she can find it. Sometimes that's in Mexico, sometimes that's poolside at her Scottsdale, Ariz., home. It's virtually never running a winged sprint car at some dirt track on the edge of the map, but that's her choice. Her affinity for travel and her financial ability to jet across the country -- almost always flying commercial -- help immensely. Amid busy racing and promotional schedules, she sometimes just needs nothing to do.
"To be honest, when I'm home, every day is a Friday for me," she said. "It doesn't really matter what day it is for me. A lot of my friends actually have time off during the week, and so it doesn't prohibit me from enjoying myself when I am home on a Monday or a Tuesday. The important thing for me is I have a couple days off."
Patrick was able to combine recreation and education a few weeks ago while relaxing after her dual Sprint Cup/Nationwide weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Luckily, she was lounging around the Lake Norman area of suburban Charlotte, where many drivers have homes.
"On Memorial Day, I was out floating on Lake Norman and came across [Sprint Cup driver] Denny Hamlin," she recalled. "We struck up a conversation, and one of the first things we were talking about was how much it helped him when he started racing the Cup car and how much it helped his Nationwide program. And I said I couldn't agree more. Every time I get into a Nationwide car after being in a Cup car, I feel so much more comfortable than I did previously."
Earlier that weekend, before finishing 13th in the Nationwide Series race and 30th in the Coca-Cola 600 Sprint Cup race, she was enjoying herself and attempting to glean some dirt-track tactics she could employ in the Prelude to the Dream charity race on June 6. Patrick, who had never raced on dirt before Prelude to the Dream -- Tony Stewart's late-model event in Rossburg, Ohio, to benefit Feed the Children -- crashed once in preliminaries but finished 15th of 26 racers in the feature.
With that race over and the experience catalogued among the many new ones of her first full Nationwide season, Patrick embarked eagerly on this final Nationwide bye week until the fall.
"There's a lot of race weekends, a lot of busy weekends," she said. "I'm looking forward to a weekend off. The next week off is in October, and I know that because I'm scheduling my sister [Brooke's] bachelorette party that weekend."
Her Prelude to the Dream aside notwithstanding, Patrick guards her personal time and spends it away from racing circles, much like Sprint Cup veterans Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. She used a three-weeks-out-of-four down period in March to travel and celebrate her 30th birthday. Even before the season, Patrick anticipated enjoying Sundays off, given that most Nationwide races are run on Saturday. She will lose that luxury if she advances, as expected by team owner Stewart, to Sprint Cup in 2013.
"I know this year is probably going to be one of the most fun years because I'll have Sundays off, almost, which is really cool," she said in February. "It's nice, because what no one thinks about is you go work on the weekend and then you get home on Sunday night or Monday morning, and the phone starts ringing and email starts popping in because people work Monday to Friday.
"But when you get home on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning, the phone doesn't even ring on Sunday. I actually get a day off. So Sunday is a really nice day for me."
April was almost like a month of Sundays for Patrick and husband, Paul Hospenthal, both avid travelers. There were junkets to Northern California and Cabo San Lucas, and a pool party at home in Scottsdale. And the requisite girls' night out.
"The girls' night was planned on the 30th birthday, the fun pool party day," she said. "All of us girls were looking at each other saying, 'We gotta get together and have a girls' night.' We all had our phones out, and we decided on the night. And it went quiet as we all typed it into our phones, and I think all of us looked at it the next night and went, 'Oh, I guess we have a girls' night planned for Thursday.' Remarkably, everyone showed up."