Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Danica Patrick takes unusual route to Daytona 500 starting grid

It wasn’t easy, but Danica Patrick has a guaranteed starting spot in this year’s Daytona 500 before Speedweeks even begin.

Patrick’s owner, Tony Stewart, worked out a complicated deal with Tommy Baldwin Racing that will allow Patrick’s #10 car to use last year’s owner’s points for Baldwin’s #36 car.

But, Patrick will technically share her ride for the length of the season with David Reutimann. Since Patrick will only compete in 10 Sprint Cup Series races in 2012, the deal between Stewart and Baldwin allows Reutimann to run the other 26 races.

This is a great deal for Patrick and her Stewart-Haas Racing team. Patrick is guaranteed to race in the 500 and won’t have to put up with the incredible spotlight she would’ve been under during Speedweeks as she tried to qualify for the race.

The situation also works out pretty well for Tommy Baldwin Racing. Patrick will run under the TBR name, so that organization will receive the owner points for all 36 races the #10 car runs. Since this is almost certainly a one-year deal, TBR will have a guaranteed spot if it wants to bring back the #36 car in 2013.

Although everything appears to have worked out for those two organizations, this deal did little to help Ruetimann or his teammate Dave Blaney, who will now have to race his way into the 500 field.

Unfortunately, NASCAR’s rules facilitate these problems.

Those who hate the top-35 rule will only scream louder in the wake of this announcement, and they have a legitimate reason.

The top 35 cars in owner points from the previous season are guaranteed starting spots for the first five races of the following season. The rule is designed to protect big-time teams from missing a race if they don’t qualify well.

However, the consequences of that goal reverberate in strange directions each offseason. Too many teams shut down and too many new ones are born each year for the top-35 rule to be effective.

In the past, teams have purchased owners points from teams that shut down. Well, NASCAR outlawed that and in turn created a system where teams have to be really creative, as Stewart was in this instance, to find a way to assure their new teams will have a guaranteed spot in the first five races of the season.

Many people will say NASCAR should abolish the top-35 rule. That’s fine, but it’s not going to happen. There is way too much money invested into the top teams in the sport to risk having one of them miss a race.

There isn’t an easy answer for this problem, but it is something NASCAR needs to seriously review. The sanctioning body has responded to issues in the sport very well in the past few years, but this one might be more difficult.

First, most people will only care about this issue during Speedweeks and then forget about it until the season starts again next year. Others will maybe care for the first five races, but as the season goes on the top-35 rule usually only affects the small, minimally sponsored teams that don’t factor into the finish of a race anyway.

Maybe this is just a necessary evil in the sport, but there is something wrong when a former race winner has to share his ride with a rookie just because of sponsorship dollars.


  1. Without this deal I wonder if TBR could have fielded 2 cars. Or if Reutimann would have even had a ride. If Reutimann could win with MWR cars it's entirely possible for him to win one or two races with cars affiliated with SHR/Hendricks. With upgraded cars TBR's drivers Blaney, Reutimann could suprise and more importantly get noticed by sponsors for 2013.

    I am also willing to bet that Reutimann will be at the track when Danica is racing, much the same way Johhny Benson was in nationwide.

  2. I can't see how Reuteman doesn't benefit. He will have top 35 points for his first 4 races won't he. He actually gets more from this deal than Patrick: 4 guaranteed starts and 26 races.

    Blaney shouldn't care. He has a great job and he no longer has to pony up for Ryan's drive.

    John McManus

  3. This seems to be a case of TBR using Danica's hype to benefit someone other than Danica. It's a winning deal for the TBR organization.

  4. Either way, Reutimann will have to be competitive in his races to show TBR is any good. If Danica runs well with her SHR cars and Reutimann runs terrible in the TBR equipment, that won't help raise the perception of TBR at all.

  5. this patric deal stinks! she should come up the ranks like any other driver. she has not earned a spot. you must be kidding. she will not even run a full season. make up youre mind. commit fully or go back to indy!!!

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