Conspiracy theorists questioned Danica Patrick’s pole-winning performance at her first Cup race, given her ballyhooed transition from IndyCar.
Did she get a special boost from NASCAR in inspection or on the air restrictor?
FOX Sports’ “ghost car” replay that day superimposed runner-up Jeff Gordon’s qualifying lap, and the replay showed where Patrick took a different line at the exit of Turn 2.
When rookie Danica Patrick qualified for her first Indy 500 in 2005, she caught a tail-happy car at the edge of control in Turn 1 on her first lap while the veterans watching from the pit road caught their collective breath.
Although not as gutsy as her first lap, her average speed increased on each of her final three laps for a four-lap average of 227.566 mph and she barely missed the front row. That was the beginning of Danica Mania, which took off when she led the race in the final stages before finishing fourth.
Eight years later, Patrick won the 2013 Daytona 500 pole with a lap of 196.434 mph in a Stewart Haas Racing Chevy at the start of her first full season in the Cup Series.
Conspiracy theorists questioned Patrick’s pole-winning performance at her first Cup race, given her ballyhooed transition from IndyCar as the first woman to race full time in the Cup Series under a three-year contract at SHR with GoDaddy sponsorship. Did she get a special boost from NASCAR in inspection or on the air restrictor?
Fox Sports’ “ghost car” replay, which superimposed runner-up Jeff Gordon’s qualifying lap, showed where Patrick took a different line at the exit of Turn 2, critical to a fast run down the back straight. And after all, she had won three poles on ovals for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in that breakthrough 2005 IndyCar season.
As it turned out, the pole at Daytona was the peak of Patrick’s NASCAR career. She had won a pole in an Xfinity Series race at Daytona in 2012 for JR Motorsports and finished eighth in her first 500, but she did not qualify on the front row at Daytona again in five more attempts at the 500 nor did she win another pole in NASCAR.
A promising beginning soon turned into something fans had seen with two other IndyCar drivers who proceeded her, Indy 500 winners Sam Hornish Jr. and Dario Franchitti. Results in NASCAR never quite arrived for those two. Former Formula 1 driver and Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya proved an exception, winning twice on road courses and leading 1,124 laps in seven full seasons, although without an oval victory.
Despite a front-line team and a wily veteran crew chief, Tony Gibson, Patrick produced mediocre results on the track. Drivers succeed on the ragged edge in stock cars, but Patrick insisted on cars that were comfortable for her to drive, not the fastest method on ovals. A frustrated but loyal Gibson gave up after two seasons and sponsor GoDaddy left after three. Patrick’s new sponsor in 2015, Nature’s Bakery, backed out of its contract with SHR after the first of what was scheduled to be a three-year deal.
Through it all, Patrick’s star power with a bona fide racing resume and occasional forays at the front (she had seven Top 10 finishes and led 62 laps) was evident. In the legal dispute between SHR and Nature’s Bakery over the contract termination, which was settled out of court, it was confirmed the company had signed up to pay $15 million per year to sponsor Patrick’s No. 10 entry. During the legal debate, SHR presented a variety of statistics to show that Patrick gained more attention in the media than some veteran winning drivers and their sponsors.
Following five full seasons in the Cup Series, Patrick elected to concentrate on a career as a social media personality focused on fitness and health, with occasional appearances as a race announcer. Her last race came in IndyCar at the Indianapolis 500 in 2018, where she crashed while running mid-pack.