Danica Patrick explains why she isn’t racing in The Clash

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Danica Patrick answered the question before it was even asked.

Introduced as “a former pole winner” in a news conference Saturday morning about her final NASCAR start in the Daytona 500, Patrick immediately interrupted the moderator.

“Being a former pole winner and watching myself not out there in Clash practice, you mean?” Patrick asked, glancing at a TV monitor showing cars turning laps at Daytona International Speedway for Sunday’s season-opening exhibition race.

Well, yes. Exactly.

Patrick, who became the first woman to win a pole position and lead laps in NASCAR’s premier series when she qualified first for the 2013 Daytona 500, is eligible for The Clash, and the 75-lap warmup on the 2.5-mile oval provides a good refresher for drivers getting re-acclimated to the draft.

But the No. 7 Chevrolet is here only for the Great American Race, a fact that Patrick recently was lamenting.

“A couple of days ago I was thinking to myself that we should have run the backup car in the Clash,” said Patrick, who had made four consecutive starts in The Clash with a best finish of fourth last year. “We don’t want to crash the primary anyway, so we are going to be careful in the (Can-Am Duel qualifying races Thursday), then you don’t have to worry about practicing too hard because you will have already had The Clash race.

“I was like, ‘Man, where was I on that one?’ It would have just been a good gamble to use the backup but didn’t think of it soon enough and was honestly just really concerned about the work getting done to put the primary car out there for the 500. Just came together too late and thought of it too late. It would have been good practice. It always is. It’s good for these guys too.  It’s good for everybody.”

A sponsorship deal with GoDaddy to close her racing career with Daytona and the Indianapolis 500 was announced last month and was followed by confirmation of Premium Motorsports as the NASCAR team fielding her car. Patrick has said the hunt for funding took longer than expected and The Clash wasn’t offered as part of the sponsorship package.

“It was really just to do Daytona and Indy and The Clash wasn’t a priority,” she said. “If it would have come together sooner, I’m sure that we would have been able to put something together for The Clash. But I’m sure it would have been extra, you know what I mean? It’s not free. Turning a wheel, turning the engine on, it’s never free.

“So, we would have surely found a way to put something together, but it just didn’t come together fast enough.”

Because NASCAR is using a new optical scanning inspection system, the team also considered it prudent to focus on car preparation for the one-off.

“There was no time to really worry too much about anything other than the primary (car),” Patrick said.

Patrick will have the comfort of being reunited with Tony Eury Jr., her 2010-12 crew chief with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.

“It should all be familiar, but it’s a new team, and it is new stuff to sit in,” she said. “It should all be really, really, close, but hopefully it feels familiar and I slip right into it.”