Posted: 12:03 a.m. Monday, Feb. 17, 2014
By Jordan Bianchi
Danica Patrick is unhappy with a rule that will require her to start at the rear of the Daytona 500 field.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A rule mandating Danica Patrick must start at the rear of the field in the Daytona 500 has left the driver and her team upset with NASCAR.
Because Patrick, along with teammate Tony Stewart, blew engines in Saturday practice and had to make an unapproved change, NASCAR requires they forfeit their starting positions in both their Duel qualifying race and the Daytona 500.
It was initially thought they had to only drop to the rear in Thursday's Duel and not the Daytona 500. However, NASCAR clarified Saturday evening that Patrick and Stewart would start at the back in both races, meaning no matter where they finish in the Duel they will start the Daytona 500 at the back.
That decision has left Patrick "defeated," feeling as though she is being penalized twice.
"It's very unfortunate," Patrick said Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. "It sucks to know that no matter what you do (in qualifying), it doesn't matter at all. I have to start in the back for the (Duel), and I don't understand why because everyone has to change their engine again, but I'm going to have start in the back for the 500."
Teams are allowed to change engines prior to the Daytona 500 without penalty, but cannot do so before Thursday.
Stewart was more pragmatic about the issue, understanding the volatility of restrictor-plate racing. Because of the draft and the frequency in which drivers shuffle through the running order, starting in the rear at Daytona isn't as big a penalty as it would be elsewhere. In 2012, Stewart won the July Daytona race from the 42nd position after his qualifying time was disallowed.
"If you can't get to the front in 500 miles, you're not going to get there anyway, so it doesn't matter where you start," Stewart said. "I guess I don't have any feelings about it because I think we have a car that can go up and win the 500 regardless of where we start. I'm more worried about getting my car ready for Sunday.
"I really don't care where we start. They can start me a lap down, and I think we'll be fine."
Although they struggled in qualifying Sunday posting the 25th- and 35th-fastest times, respectively, Patrick and Stewart are virtually assured of competing in the Daytona 500. Therefore they could choose to run just one lap Thursday and park, saving their cars for Sunday.
"What stops me from just going out and starting-and-parking?" Patrick asked rhetorically. "That would be a bummer for the fans ... but I don't want to tear up my 500 car."
Tony Gibson, Patrick's crew chief, conceded parking was an option, but the benefits of completing the full distance outweigh any negatives.
"You have to protect yourself, so we have to think about that," Gibson said. "We want the time on the racetrack. We want to run and learn and take that knowledge into Sunday.
"Our plan right now is to run and keep digging."