Those guys have all the fun
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick was explaining the historical significance of becoming the first woman to win a Sprint Cup pole on Sunday when the conversation turned to dinner.
"I'm not fixing anything tonight," she told crew chief Tony Gibson after winning the top spot for the Daytona 500. "In fact, I'm probably going to have some beers. I think somebody is making me a sandwich. I went to Cracker Barrel [earlier] and I'm glad I ate the bacon because it's probably what is keeping me alive right now."
Beer? Cracker Barrel? Bacon? Sandwich?
Wait. This is the same person who wore $1,200 designer stilettos to the media tour last month, who forever has talked about eating in fancy restaurants and drinking expensive wine. She even got a funny look from owner Tony Stewart during last month's Daytona test for mentioning expensive wine.
Now she's sounding like a stereotype well, in a word she uses now, redneck.
You may want to blame some of this on boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who wears a cowboy hat and big belt buckle, listens to country music and drives a pickup truck.
But it has just as much to do with Stewart, Gibson and the overall atmosphere at Stewart-Haas Racing.
While to the rest of the world Patrick is a sexy, sophisticated poster girl for GoDaddy.com, at SHR's 140,000-square foot facility in Kannapolis, N.C., she's just one of the boys.
It's a close-knit climate that has helped SHR quickly grow into one of the top organizations in NASCAR, a big reason three cars were in the top five of qualifying -- Stewart was fifth fastest and Ryan Newman fourth.
"This will probably be a sound bite for you guys: I think Danica has two boyfriends. She has Ricky and she has [crew chief] Tony Gibson," Stewart joked. "They are all but holding hands in the shop when they're there every day together."
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Laughs followed. But behind the joke Stewart was telling us the importance chemistry has meant to his organization.
It's why he was willing to separate from crew chief Darian Grubb following his championship season in 2011 to work with Steve Addington, and why he reunited Newman with former crew chief Matt Borland.
It's why former crew chief Greg Zipadelli, who helped Stewart win two titles at Joe Gibbs Racing, moved to SHR last season to become director of competition.
It's probably a big reason why Kevin Harvick plans to leave Richard Childress Racing for SHR in 2014.
Harvick wants to be a part of this family that since 2009 has 17 wins and a title. By comparison, RCR has 12 wins and no titles during that span and Roush Fenway Racing has 17 wins and no titles.
"I like to see that chemistry that you're talking about," Stewart said. " Having three teams that the drivers and crew chiefs are getting along, happy to be paired up where they're at, that's something that goes a long way."
Throw Harvick into the mix next year and it's almost like, according to a follower on Twitter, one large fraternity.
Or, as a member of SHR's public relations department cleverly responded on Twitter: "In Greek life, we're known as Sigma Eta Rho or £ — R" -- as close as he could get to S H R.
Patrick fits right in.
"Absolutely," Gibson said. "We've got a deer head hanging in our hauler. She's listening to country music now. My next deal come spring is to take her turkey hunting."
Yes, Patrick has the head of a 10-point buck in the lounge of her hauler. Gibson also hung a star with a "D" on her locker to remind her of the Hollywood lifestyle his driver is accustomed to.
But overall, he treats her no differently than he does anybody else in the shop. Nobody does. It's why what happened Sunday is much bigger than Patrick and the historical significance for the organization .
"We're just old school racers and Tony is the same way," Gibson said. "We do a lot of redneck racing and bench racing. Come into the shop and watch us work. It'll take you back 15 years."
By that he means each crew chief and team is allowed to explore areas on the car without necessarily sharing it with the other teams in this world of common templates.
"We don't have many areas we can work on in NASCAR now, but what little areas we do, Stewart lets us work in them," Gibson said.
Stewart's personality can be seen all over SHR. It's similar to the way his former boss, Joe Gibbs, transferred his personality onto JGR.
"Whether it's good or bad, [it] transfers everywhere we go," Stewart joked, again drawing laughter. "That's what makes days like today [when Patrick won the pole] so special, when you have all three teams that run that well together. We're all sharing in the success."
And having fun.
In case you're wondering if the Patrick-Stenhouse relationship has impacted that, it hasn't.
"Ricky is a great, cool guy," Gibson said. "We were friends before they started dating. He's a good kid. He's an awesome racer. He's good for her. It's a busy, hectic schedule. You've got to have somebody you can have fun with and enjoy yourself with. He can actually help her on the driving side.
"So I think it's a good thing."
It's a good thing because in fraternities, everybody sticks together no matter what. Harvick will only liven things up when he arrives. He already feels comfortable enough with Patrick to take shots at her like he did after winning Saturday's Sprint Unlimited.
"Yeah, I think the biggest thing is how are we going to get Danica and Ricky on the front page [Sunday]," Harvick cracked.
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Again, one of the boys.
"Yeah, you can joke around with her," Harvick said. "She knows when you are joking and poking fun. I get along great with her and Ricky. I was giving you guys more grief than I was her."
Maybe this is "Animal House" -- and not in a bad way. We saw it last year when Stewart's two-handed goose of Harvick's wife, DeLana, went viral on ESPN.com and YouTube. We saw it in 2008 when Stewart had his back waxed on a national radio show after losing a charitable bet to Harvick.
Patrick has seen it when Stewart has crept up behind her rear end with a blow torch.
"We always joke," Harvick said. "Sometimes people can take it the wrong way. I'm just glad [Patrick] didn't take it the wrong way. It's fun."
Fun is what the sport should be all about. Fun is why Patrick is venturing into a new world of beverage and food that actually began here a few years ago when former Nationwide Series crew chief Tony Eury Jr. introduced her to Krispy Kreme donuts.
"I need a sandwich really bad," Patrick said. "What was the first part of your question? That one [on food] was much more fun to answer."
Her boss really has rubbed off on her. Next thing you know she'll be wanting a chocolate milkshake and Schlitz.