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Woody: Danica Wriggles Way Into Daytona 500

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 4 2012

Danica Patrick will drive in the Daytona 500 later this month, but did she take the back roads to get there? (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

In the spirit of full disclosure, let me say that I’m glad Danica Patrick will be racing in this month’s Daytona 500.

I’ve always admired Danica’s sass, spunk and spirit, and following her endeavors will make the races she runs considerably more interesting.

Having said that, however, the way she got an automatic starting spot without having ever turned a competitive lap in a Sprint Cup race is absurd, and nudges NASCAR ever closer to the pro wresting precipice.

Here’s how it happened (I think):

Although Danica signed with Stewart-Hass Racing, she will run some Cup races for Tommy Baldwin Racing. Why? Because Baldwin’s team finished in the top 35 last year, and under NASCAR’s system it is therefore guaranteed a start spot in the first five races this season.

Presto! Putting Danica in Baldwin’s car – while employed by Stewart-Hass – gets her into the Daytona 500.

Last year’s top 35 are guaranteed starting spots in this season’s first five races, then the automatic starts revert to the top 35 in the current owner’s points.

Like most other things in life, the automatic-starting rule looked reasonable on paper. But eventually shrewd team owners did what they’ve been doing for six decades – they out-smarted NASCAR.

I’ve never liked the automatic qualifying rule from the start. I understand the principle – it protects and rewards full-time teams that are most heavily invested in the sport. But it handicaps lower-level teams that are trying to claw their way in, or struggling to survive once they’re there.

I’ve always thought that the fairest way would be to let every driver run his or her qualifying laps and the fastest 43 get to race. Everybody else loads up, goes home, and tries again next week. What could be fairer that?

NASCAR’s argument, of course, is that a superstar like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, or Tony Stewart might have a glitch in qualifying and get left out. That would deny advance ticket-buyers a chance to see all the top drivers (and also dampen TV ratings.)

That’s why the starting lineup is rigged to make sure all the big-name drivers get in. And it works – locking crowd-wowing Danica Patrick into the Daytona 500 is a perfect example.

There’s no question that it’s brilliant marketing strategy, but it’s patently unfair from a competitive standpoint. But, having covered NASCAR for 40 years, the more I see the less I understand when it comes to the spirit of competition.

For example: why does mega-bucks team owner Rick Hendrick sell engines to rival Stewart-Hass – powerful engines Tony Stewart uses to beat Hendrick’s drivers?

A team spends a fortune on its engine program, working under tight security in a secret underground bunker, then turns around and sells the engines to the enemy. I don’t get it.

Meanwhile a driver who has never turned a lap in a Sprint Cup race already has a starting spot locked up in the Daytona 500.

I’m glad Dancia will be in the race. I just question how she got there.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 4 2012
11 Comments

11 Comments »

  • john says:

    The level of hate for a reasonably competitive female is astounding. I’ll remind everyone again that if you don’t drive for Ganassi or Penske, there’s a very good chance you will never, ever win in Indycar, unless you’re lucky enough to blow by the leaders on a pit stop and hang on for dear life (like Justin Wilson.)

    To keep bringing up her win record in the IRL is like bringing up the win record of someone in F1 who doesn’t drive a Ferrari, McLaren or Red bull.

    In her 20 or so races over the course of two seasons in Nationwide, she has a handful of top 10s and has led laps and has shown her comfort level improving every race out. Will she win a race? Well with less Kyle Busch and no Carl Edwards this season (thank god) she might actually have a shot, yeah. And probably top 10 in points.

    As for getting into Cup, the Danica Hatred is blinding everyone to the fact that this BS trading and buying of owner’s points has been going on for like a decade and has absolutely nothing to do with the drivers. Last time I checked Trevor Bayne got into the 500 this way… Oops!

    The only thing worse than the media overhyping Danica (also not her fault) is the incessant Danica whining. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

    • Tony Traugott says:

      John:

      I see your point. But I think the fact is is that Danica Patrick as a driver is no more than a journeyman, or journeywoman, if you must. SHE puts herself out there like she is the greatest thing since radial tires but she doesn’t deliver. She was in an Andretti car when they were on top of the heap on won 1 race on fuel mileage. A legit win, but not followed up with anything near that. She has almost always been beaten by her teammates in equal cars. With all that she’s had going for her, she just doesn’t deliver and I think that’s why people don’t like her hyped like she’s something special. The plain fact is, is that she is just a great marketing tool.

      As for your comment about Justin Wilson’s win in Dales Coyne’s car, I think you should think again. Given Coyne’s history and budget, that win, no matter if Justin just hung on or blew everyone away, was just HUGE.

      Respectfully

  • David says:

    I have always felt that in a race as prestigious as the Daytona 500, the field should consist of the fastest drivers, with no guaranteed starting spots due to owner points. This NASCAR rule cheapens the series IMHO replacing real racing with entertainment.

  • Tony Geinzer says:

    I feel bugged someone who has no Stateside wins in 8 Pro Years got in the 500 while Bayne has to race in. I am wanting veteran team, driver, or both to be preferred for provisionals.

  • Not You says:

    You do realize it has nothing to do with the driver right? It has been done for Years now. YEARS! It’s all about owner points. Owners have been selling points since the top 35 rule came out. Do a little research, you useless buffoon! Good day to you, Sir.

  • steven says:

    Pimp Daddy has the cash, no problem. He can do what he wants. I’d just like to know how much Mr. Baldwin pocketed, I’m sure he could use the money, he’s a racer. As far as Danicant is concerned I think that we will see this year how far over her head she truly is. It’s amazing to fantasize that a “driver” with absolutely NO technical knowledge can actually be competitive. Aint gonna happen.

    • lydia says:

      Whoa Steven….you are a Danica (or women in NASCAR in general) hater. As far as Pimp Daddy goes…not sure if you are referring to Stewart or GO Daddy…but either way…you have a lot of Nascar demons in your head! As far as Danica’s chances…give the driver a break…pace yourself…..you have the entire season to disparage her driving!

  • ned shrout says:

    Damon,the difference is T.Bayne ran a race in the #21 Texas,fall 2010, Danica has O laps in sprint cup !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Damon says:

      Ned, Steve Wallace had no Cup starts prior to 2011, but was locked in for 2011 Daytona 500 thanks to the 2010 owners points from the 77…he finished 20th.

  • Lydia says:

    Well good…we have something to moan and groan about! Seriously I think the media…and Danica haters…are the only ones up in arms over this transaction! As it’s been pointed out..those selling the points are teams leaving the sport or start and parkers. It’s the ONLY asset some of these teams have that’s worth a good dollar…so why rain on their parade? If it allows a retiring team a little extra cash in their pockets when they leave NASCAR..or gives a start and park team the funds it needs to run a few more races…it’s win win! And to add to this transaction the car will run the entire season and up Baldwins standing in the series. So who is it hurting?? To me, NASCAR usually makes up rules to benefit themselves. This is one rule that benefits the teams…so let’s back off!!

  • Damon says:

    Hey Larry, you DO realize the Wood Brothers did this very same thing for Trevor Bayne last year, right? Ditto for RCR/Paul Menard and Rusty Wallace with his son Steven last year as well.

    This is only a problem because it’s Danica….admit it.