Rest easy, Danica Patrick fans: your lady is going to be driving in the Daytona 500 no matter what.
[ NASCAR preseason countdown: No. 14 AJ Allmendinger]
Stewart-Haas Racing, Patrick's team, has arranged to transfer necessary points from Dave Blaney's No. 36 of Tommy Baldwin Racing, meaning Patrick won't have to qualify on speed but Blaney will. Blaney finished inside the top 35 in owner's points last year, 32nd to be exact, which means he's guaranteed entry into the first five races. Blaney does have good experience with qualifying, and fewer race teams on the track (thanks to the departure of Red Bull and the contraction of Roush Fenway, among other moves) means the opportunity to get in on speed isn't quite as difficult as it might have been.
Here's how the deal shakes out: Stewart-Haas Racing has "entered into a collaborative partnership" with Tommy Baldwin Racing so that, technically speaking, TBR is now fielding Patrick's No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevy Impala, not just for the Daytona 500 but for all 10 of the races Patrick will run at the Sprint Cup level. TBR is thus now a two-car team, and SHR goes back to being a two-car team. Makes perfect sense, right?
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If all this leaves a bit of an unsavory taste in your mouth, you're not alone; points-swapping is one of the more oily aspects of the NASCAR race experience. It's common, it's done every single year, but that doesn't make the wheeling-and-dealing, not racing for position, sit any easier.
Patrick already has enough problems with the perception that she's been handed opportunities at turn after turn, and this latest move, leapfrogging into the Great American Race, will do nothing to stem that perception. Yes, it's a marketing necessity, given the investment in Patrick, and yes, she's a talented driver in her own right, but the stakes are growing higher with every benefit she receives. Going to be one hell of an interesting race to watch.
Patrick locked into Daytona 500, thanks to TBR [NASCAR.com]
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