Opposites attract for Danica Patrick, new crew chief Tony Gibson

Jerry Markland

Danica Patrick is a tony woman.

No, not in the sense that she drives for NASCAR team owner Tony Stewart, has a new crew chief named Tony Gibson and a former crew chief named Tony Eury Jr.

In this case, "tony" means "high-class."

"I'm kind of fancy," Patrick said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, where she's preparing to race in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series this weekend. "I do fancy things, eat at fancy restaurants, drink fancy wine."

So it would seem to make absolutely no sense, then, that the fashionable, trendy Patrick would be paired with self-described "old-school, redneck racers."

Or does it? As Patrick prepares for her first race with Gibson – her Sprint Cup crew chief for a full-time effort in 2013 – it seems clear the two are clicking already.

"Why wouldn't they get along?" Stewart said. "They're not going out and eating dinner together, they're racing together. And that's where they've got to be on the same page."

In that regard, it makes all the sense in the world. Though Patrick doesn't have much in common with her new crew chief on the surface – she doesn't hunt, fish, or speak with an accent – the sophisticated Go Daddy girl loves the more relaxed style. She experienced something similar at JR Motorsports with Eury Jr., who was somewhat nurturing despite a no-bull reputation.

"The personalities are just cool, laid-back, get down to business but still have fun," she said after laughing about their differences. "I think that is a great attitude to bring to the track every weekend."

"Opposites attract," Gibson suggested.

More important than how their personalities will mesh away from the track is how Patrick and Gibson will connect when things aren't going well next season. Inevitably, there will be many times when that's the case.

Patrick will make the jump to NASCAR's big leagues next year, but she doesn't have enough experience or previous success in the Nationwide Series to prompt much optimism. Gibson knows that, but he's prepared to be patient with his new pupil.

It's not about results or top-five finishes, he said; it's about building a driver's career with a team.

"There's no pressure on us," he said. "... Like I told her, we are going to set small goals and achievable goals for us. Whether if it's by the end of qualifying practice to be on the left side of the board and qualify 25th, 23rd, 20th, 18th; let's set goals that we can achieve together as a race team and grow together."

It's not just Gibson who is on board with the idea of working with an unproven driver. Each crew member was given the option to remain with Ryan Newman or stay with the team moving to Patrick's No. 10 car, Gibson said; it took just 30 seconds for everyone to agree.

"Hopefully, that is comforting to Danica and just sends a message to her that we are behind her 110 percent and ready to move forward," he said.

This weekend at Texas will be Patrick's first opportunity to see how well she meshes with Gibson. The new crew chief promised to adapt to her driving style instead of making Patrick adapt to his setup.

"It's music to my ears as a driver," she said.

If they can take their time building a team, Gibson is confident there will be good results to come. Patrick, he said, is "a winner."

"She has the capability of winning races," he said. "... We don't have to teach her how to win. We just have to make sure that our race team is solid and can comfort her and give her the things she needs to win in the Cup Series."

There's just one small problem that might need to be worked out. Gibson has been calling his drivers "old man" for years (he doesn't know why and says it's somewhat reflexive), and he's worried he might drop an "old man" on Patrick, too.

"If I do say that, I'm sorry," he said. "It just comes out for some odd reason. I don't know. I have no idea. Hopefully she will forgive me."

"I really don't care what people call me," Patrick replied.

"As long as we are successful," Gibson said, "we can call each other what we want to."

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