Woody: Danica Wriggles Way Into Daytona 500
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 firstname.lastname@example.org Comments