This story appears in the Dec. 12, 2011, "Interview Issue" of ESPN The Magazine.
SMITH: Why is moving to NASCAR full time the right choice for you?
PATRICK: NASCAR reminds me of growing up racing go-karts and how much I loved it. The fact that stock cars have bumpers invigorates the rougher side of me that's been tempered by the inability in open-wheel racing to touch anyone. To be able to go out on the track and stake your place excites me. The crazy thing is that I didn't even drive a stock car until I'd already signed a two-year deal to run a partial Nationwide schedule. I had friends in NASCAR who knew my driving style and thought I'd fit in there. So I took a huge leap of faith.
So you'd consider yourself more aggressive than what we saw from you in IndyCar? When I was a kid, I was one of the most aggressive drivers out there. I'd go from 30th to winning a heat race in eight laps because I'd come up behind someone and bump him entering the corner. You don't have to make contact to be aggressive, but when you make a move, you stick it. You take the car to the limit. It's about confidence but respect at the same time. I race everyone fair. If they're not fair back to me, well, then I know where it's going.
How confident are you that you can become the first female driver to win a Sprint Cup race? With Tony Stewart and his cars,
I have the tools I need to win. I expect it to be super hard, but I do believe it's going to happen.
You lost a good friend when two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon was killed in the IndyCar finale at Las Vegas. How does his death impact your view of your job? Dan's death still hurts, but it hasn't changed my view of racing. Dying in a race is something we all know can happen. And because anything can happen at any time, I need to do the best job I can to become the driver I want to be -- and more than that, the person I want to be.