The jokes, and the conspiracy theories, were in full flight Sunday even before Danica Patrick went out and won the pole for next weekend’s Daytona 500.
"Will Danica sit on the pole?" "Pole position for Danica?"
Maybe they're jealous that this woman racing driver makes history just about any time she accomplishes something. This time she became the first woman to win a pole in Sprint Cup competition, the highest class in NASCAR. She previously became the first woman to lead a lap in the Indy 500, became the first female Indy car winner when she finished first in an IRL race in Japan, recorded the highest finish for a woman in the Indy 500 when she finished third in 2009, and on and on.
I mean, she’s been there before.
If it hadn’t been for a mid-first-turn bobble on her first of four laps, she would have won the pole for the Indianapolis 500 the first year she tried, back in 2005. She went on to win three poles in total in Indy cars.
Last year, her first full-time season in a NASCAR class, she won the pole for the Nationwide Series race at Daytona.
This year, she was among the fastest in practice for the 500 and Sunday, when the chips were down, she set fast time and her two teammates, Ryan Newman and Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart, were fourth and fifth fastest - all in cars prepared for the team by Hendrick Motorsports.
So what's there to be surprised about?
But she’d barely taken the checkered flag before the Twitterverse was crying fix.
Why? She’s got the credentials.
If there was anything funny going on, I guarantee the Busch brothers, and Jimmie Johnson, and Kevin Harvick, and every other Sprint Cup driver in Daytona would have been crying foul.
This is not just another NASCAR race. This is the Daytona 500, the biggest race in NASCAR, and there isn’t another one till next year and no professional race car driver worth his salt is going to allow something as important as the pole position or the race result to be manipulated.
If one of the tech inspectors suspected something was fishy, and tipped off a reporter with the credentials of, say, an Ed Hinton, who went out and did some digging and subsequently reported that Patrick’s pole was suspect, NASCAR’s reputation could be seriously jeopardized.
I know competitors in NASCAR have sometimes cheated, but I seriously doubt that NASCAR itself has ever been complicit.
I know, fans have talked for years about so-and-so getting "the call" from NASCAR but when you sit right down and think about it, how in the world would something like that work? You would need to have 42 other drivers in on the fix and that, ladies and gentlemen, would be impossible.
If NASCAR was ever found to be rigging results, it would be ruined. So, there’s no way.
I’m sure that Brian France, et al, are delighted that Danica Patrick did what they’d hoped she’d do because it is very good for business.
But other than crossing their fingers when she went out for her run, I don’t think they had any further involvement.
Danica Patrick’s lap of 45.817 seconds is the fastest pole time since Kenny Schraeder’s back in 1990. Jeff Gordon was closest to her, lapping with a time of 45.850 seconds, 0.033 seconds slower.
The next 38 cars to go out were within a second of her time. In total, 45 cars participated in time trials and Brian Keselowski, brother of defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, was 45th and last with a time of 48.946 seconds – 2.973 seconds behind Patrick.
As per the rules at Daytona, the pole winner and the second-fastest time trialer (Gordon) are now locked into the big race. Everybody else has to race in one of two qualifying sprints next Thursday afternoon and their finishing position will determine their starting position in the 500.
With only 45 cars in total vying for 43 starting positions, there will not be a lot of drama in either of those Budweiser Duels at Daytona. There is no danger of any of the Sprint Cup regulars missing the big race.
Once upon a time, of course, those qualifying races meant something because as many as 60 cars would try to make the field at Daytona, which meant that upwards of 30 cars – sometimes more – would take the green flag in each of those two races. The pressure would really be on all of the drivers to race their way into the feature.
Not any longer, it seems.
What was with that puny crowd for the Sprint Unlimited race at Daytona Saturday night. Were there 5,000 people in the stands? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a smaller crowd for a NASCAR race starring most of the big names.
Best line of the weekend, courtesy of Jeff Gordon: "I was the fastest guy out there."
Jealous, or what? Kevin Harvick, after winning the Sprint Unlimited: "Maybe this will knock Ricky (Stenhouse, Jr.) and Danica off the front page."
I wouldn’t bet on it, Kevin.