Danica to give up Daytona pole? Danica Patrick accomplished her main goal during her 150-mile qualifying race Thursday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway.
She didn’t wreck.
Beyond that, it wasn’t all that fun or fulfilling for Patrick, the first woman to win a pole for a NASCAR race.
She most likely will get to start that race—the biggest race of the season, the Daytona 500—on Sunday from the pole after a 17th-place finish in the first of two Budweiser Duels.
Patrick, who started on the pole, didn’t lead a lap. She was seventh by the fifth lap and soon fell near the back of the 23-car field for the remainder of the race.
“There is a sense of relief that I know the … car is going to start on the pole for the Daytona 500,” Patrick said after the race. “At the same point in time, it’s not fun to protect and be careful and cautious and drop back at times.
“But then again, we were able to learn about our car in a safe place. We still did learn things, but just less about in traffic and more about the car.” Fighting a tight condition, Patrick had hoped to get the car fixed when she pitted during the race, but when she came down pit road, her tachometer went blank. Drivers use their tachometers to make sure they don’t speed on pit road, and she had to creep down pit road at a much slower pace than the rest of the field to avoid a penalty.
After she came off pit road, Patrick’s tachometer pegged at 10,000 RPM, which is exceedingly high for a restrictor-plate track.
Patrick then opted to just run around in the back and not take any chances since her car was just too tight from adjustments prior to the race.
“I just tried to stay out of trouble the last few laps,” Patrick said. “It’s not a lot of fun to drop back like that, but it’s the right thing to do. It’s more important to start on the pole for the Daytona 500 than to get those last few laps of chaos.”
Her car was just too tight all day.
“I wasn’t able to really keep my foot in it and run that high line and stay tucked up—I had to lift,” Patrick said. “If I didn’t lift, I would have been in the wall. We got to use it as a test session and worked on the car throughout the race.”
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver could still have to start in the rear if she wrecks or blows an engine in practice Friday or Saturday, but the race Thursday was the main thing she had to worry about.
“My nerves will be calmed down a little bit Saturday afternoon when practice is over and that car is in one piece,” crew chief Tony Gibson said. “It is a pretty big deal for our company and Danica and us to make sure we lead the field down for the Daytona 500.”
In fact, her team co-owner Gene Haas suggested she just start-and-park Thursday.
“He was like, ‘Man can we start-and-park’ and I was like, ‘I don’t really want to,’” Patrick crew chief Tony Gibson said.
“We just really wanted to run 10-15 laps and be in the pack and be up front, … but once we got kind of in a stalemate there, we fell back to 11th or 12th, the inside line wasn’t moving so it was time to get out (of the pack).”
Haas, who typically stays in the background and lets co-owner Tony Stewart take the public leadership role of the team, just smiled when asked if he thought Patrick should park early.
“It was the big picture—she has to start on the pole for the Daytona 500,” Haas said. “I’m happy. It all worked out. We got the results we wanted.
“She’s on the pole for the Daytona 500—you can’t buy that. It’s big for everybody. It’s big for NASCAR.”
Patrick didn’t. But she also decided not to do anything that could put herself in a bad position in the race, won by Kevin Harvick and which featured a three-car wreck.
“I feel like we learned a lot actually about the car,” Patrick said. “I’m not sure I got as much side-by-side passing, racing situations under my belt. But then again, (the race) looked like a lot of follow-the-leader. … It’s also really ignorant to drive up into the pack and be part of an accident for absolutely no reason.
“You’re really not going to learn much there. So, we just finished the race off and made another change and it kind of ended up being like a test session for us.”
Among the things Patrick did learn was that the outside line seemed to work much better than the inside line. She might choose to start the Daytona 500 on the outside of the front row.
“We’ll talk about that,” Gibson said. “We’ll see who is starting around us. I will say the top is probably the way you want to restart. The only reason we started on the bottom was because our teammate (Stewart) was right behind us and we knew he would protect us and kind of take care of us.
“We will sit down and talk about it but I say we will probably start on the outside.” Sporting News