Danica Patrick hopes to go out a winner in final Indy 500 before next chapter of her life

1 Comment

The 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 will be the final start of Danica Patrick‘s 26-year racing career. But make no mistake about it, Patrick — who turns 36 on March 25 — isn’t going to Indy just to simply run laps, maybe sell a few souvenirs and collect a paycheck.

On the contrary. Patrick’s goal for the May 27th race is straight-forward: she’s in it to win it.

Just over 2 1/2 months away, the Greatest Spectacle In Racing will be Patrick’s final race in any series, piloting the Chevy-powered No. 13 for Ed Carpenter Racing, with backing from long-time sponsor GoDaddy. She’s already competed in her final NASCAR Cup race, last month’s Daytona 500. Now it’s on to the second part of the so-called “Danica Double.”

“I love how everything is coming full circle,” Patrick said. “I’m going to close out my racing career at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the place where so many amazing things have happened for me. I’m back in GoDaddy green and joining a great team. Ed Carpenter Racing is consistently competitive at Indy. I can’t think of a better way to finish out my racing career than at the Indianapolis 500 with this team and GoDaddy.”

Even though she last raced at Indianapolis in an IndyCar in 2011, Patrick’s history at the fabled Brickyard has been significant. In her rookie season of 2005, she became the first female to lead laps in the 500. And in seven overall starts there, she earned six top-10 finishes, qualified on the second row in 2008, and in 2009 she finished third, scoring the highest finish ever for a woman in the biggest race in the world.

After the 500, Patrick will move on to a new career that will focus on several of her businesses that focus on fitness, lifestyle, cooking and luxury.

In a phone interview with MST on Wednesday, Patrick talked about racing in her final Indy 500 as well as what the future holds in her post-racing career:

MST: You’re kind of at the same point as you were after Homestead: about 2 ½ months until your last race – first it was NASCAR, and now IndyCar. How much are you thinking about your last race and what are you thinking about it?

Patrick: “I’m thinking about the last race in the capacity of winning it. I’m not thinking of the last race in the capacity of it being the last race. I’m really not. I’m just getting jacked up and excited about and focused on what I want to do, which is win. I’m just trying to think about it as much as possible and manifest the reality I want. I’m thinking about the last race in the capacity of winning it.”

MST: Will you be at St. Petersburg this weekend for the IndyCar season-opening race, and what kind of testing will you do prior to the Indy 500?

Patrick: “No (she won’t be at St. Pete). I don’t plan on going to any IndyCar races. I’m going to be in Indy at the beginning of next week to do my seat fitting, and then I’m testing at Indy at the end of March for a day (March 29).”

MST: Will that be the only test you have before the 500?

Patrick: “Yes.”

MST: Have you talked to some of your former competitors in IndyCar about the new car, how things have changed since you last raced in an IndyCar, etc.?

Patrick: “I’ve talked to people about it like engineers and people I know, like Ed (Carpenter) and Matt Barnes, my old engineer who works now as head of engineering for Ed’s team (Ed Carpenter Racing), which was another reason why I really wanted to drive for him. We’ve talked about that kind of stuff, I’ve asked questions for sure, but there’s nothing like feeling it out for yourself. From what I understand, it should be maybe more downforce than from when I raced (previously in IndyCar from 2005-2011), but less than what they had last year. I’m just hoping it’s like riding a bicycle.”

MST: How much do you think you’ll miss racing in general after the Indy 500?

PATRICK: “I don’t miss it right now. It’s only been a couple weeks (since her last NASCAR race), but I’m good. It’s not like I came to the conclusion to be done racing after Daytona and Indy this year overnight. It was all year last year, from the point where I had the very unique situation of a sponsor (Nature’s Bakery) leaving, to coming to the realization that I was really excited to pursue all these other businesses, and they brought me a lot of joy. Not only was it so fantastic that GoDaddy came into the picture to be my final sponsor, but also because they’re helping me with that stuff. That’s what they do. I’m excited about all those. I’m also not afraid of change. I think a lot of people are afraid of change. It’s not that I’m not afraid at all, it’s just that I get nervous but then I get more excited about what could be than worried about what was. And so, I’m excited.”

MST: Do you think you’ll ever see yourself involved in motorsports in any capacity going forward, and if an opportunity comes along that’s so good, would you be tempted to come back and race again?

Patrick: “Actually, the answer probably goes the same for both. I never thought I’d do the Indy 500 again – I really, really didn’t. And here I am. So that’s my ongoing lesson of never say never – unless you put it before the word never. I don’t plan on any of that, I don’t plan on coming back, I don’t plan on being involved with a team or anything like that. All my other businesses are quite different, they’re fitness, lifestyle, cooking and luxury. They’re very different and I very much enjoy them, so I’m excited about them. No, I don’t see that (racing again), but then again life surprises me in ways every couple years that I wouldn’t expect, so I’m always open.”

MST: You’ve become such an inspiration and role model in your racing career. That’s a big responsibility, but you’ve handled it so well. What do you hope you’ve imparted upon aspiring female racers, both on and off the racetrack?

Patrick: “Thank you. I have to say that’s something that kept me going for quite a while at the end. While sometimes it wasn’t fun, I felt like I had a job and I was given a very unique gift and I was supposed to use it to inspire. Even when I felt my day wasn’t going so well, I still was doing things that other people were dreaming about and I stayed attached to that thought. One of the things that was sad about leaving racing was the potentially smaller platform to inspire wasn’t so unique or so big. Again, that’s all in my head. I feel I have the power to do even more beyond racing now that I’m entering into it. But I do hope to continue to inspire. That’s the one thing that I don’t want to go away just because I’m leaving racing and what I grew up doing. I want to continue doing that through my other businesses, whether it be through charitable organizations, attachments through my companies to charity, or messaging through my businesses, through branding that create empowerment, through the books I would like to write that will open people’s minds up and start to develop this healthy relationship with yourself, food, exercise and your thoughts, to create a mind-body connection and look within in instead of out. These are all the things I hope to do. I just don’t want the inspire part to go away because it’s still powerful and I want to do it. I’m not one of those athletes that ever said, ‘I didn’t ask for this.’ I didn’t, but I’m lucky to be able to do it.”

MST: One of the hallmarks of your career is there has never been fear in you, you’ve always met things head-on. I’m asking this in a light tone, but you’re going to be racing in the No. 13 (in the Indy 500). How did that all come about?

Patrick: “Lucky No. 13. It’s also been 13 years since my first Indy 500. So actually, my race shoes are going to have 2005 on one and 2018 on the other shoe to signify my first and last Indy 500. And green is supposed to be unlucky in racing, as well, but obviously we’re GoDaddy green. Whenever anybody has asked me about superstitions, which has been many times over the years, my reply is always, ‘they’re only real if you believe them.’ So, I don’t believe they’re real and I believe green and 13 are going to be lucky.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Alex Bowman to miss Talladega due to concussion-like symptoms

0 Comments

Alex Bowman will miss Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway after experiencing concussion-like symptoms following his accident last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports stated Thursday afternoon.

Bowman is the second Cup driver to miss a race because of concussion-like symptoms after a crash. Kurt Busch has not returned to racing since he crashed July 23 at Pocono. Busch said this week that he remains “hopeful” he can return this season. Six races remain in the season, including Sunday’s race at Talladega.

Noah Gragson will fill in for Bowman.

Hendrick Motorsports stated that Bowman, who is last in the playoff standings, was evaluated by physicians Thursday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Provided Bowman returns, he likely will need to win the Oct. 9 race at the Charlotte Roval to avoid playoff elimination.

Bowman brought out the caution on Lap 98 of the 334-lap race at Texas when a tire blew and backed into the wall in Turn 4. The car then hit the SAFER barrier with the right side. Bowman continued, finishing the race 29th, five laps behind winner Tyler Reddick.

Drivers have stated that rear impacts have felt worse than they looked with the new car.

From the get-go, everybody could see that this car was way too stiff,” Kevin Harvick said earlier this summer. “When I crashed it (at Auto Club Speedway in practice), I thought the car was destroyed and it barely backed the bumper off. It just felt like somebody hit you with a hammer.”

Christopher Bell said in June that he had a headache after he backed into the wall in the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway in May.

Denny Hamlin said earlier this month he feels better about what NASCAR is looking to do with the car after conversations with series officials.

“I certainly feel that they’re working to help us with the hits on the chassis,” Hamlin aid. “All that stuff does take time. They can’t just knee-jerk reaction and start cutting bars out of the chassis, that’s very irresponsible.

“I think they’re doing things methodically to make sure that the next revision of car that comes out is one that is improved in the areas that we need improving on, but that does take time through design and testing.”

Gragson was to have driven the No. 62 car for Beard Motorsports in Sunday’s Cup race. Justin Allgaier will drive the car with Gragson moving to the No. 48 car.

 

Dr. Diandra: How much does Talladega shake up the playoffs?

0 Comments

Talladega Superspeedway is known for shaking up the playoffs. But how well deserved is that reputation?

Playoff drivers usually view the first race in the second round of the playoffs as the best chance to earn points, earn stage points and maybe even a win given that Talladega is the second race. Now that Texas is in the rear-view mirror, let’s turn our data analysis tools to Talladega.

The shake-up index

Determining how much one race shuffles the playoffs standings requires a simple metric that is applicable to all the years NASCAR has had stages and playoffs. In a rare point of consistency, Talladega has remained the 31st race of the season since 2017, when stage racing started.

After trying a couple different approaches, I finally settled on playoff rankings. These rankings are a zero-sum game. For each driver who moves up a position, another driver must move down.

The first graph is playoff ranking as a function of race for the second playoff segment of 2021. It’s a bit of a mess, but stay with me.

A scatter graph of rank changes to help determine how much shaking-up Talladega actually does

Playoff rank runs along the left side of the graph. The highest ranked driver is at the top and the 12th ranked at the bottom.

The leftmost set of dots shows the rankings coming out of Bristol, after eliminating the lowest four drivers and re-seeding the rest. The second column of dots show the rankings after Las Vegas, which was the first race in the second round in 2021.

Each driver is represented in a different color, with lines connecting his rankings. For example, the dark purple lines show Denny Hamlin rising from third to first over these three races. The light blue lines at the bottom show Alex Bowman plummeting from seventh to 12th.

The messier the lines between two races, the more the playoffs were shaken up. Because it’s hard to quantify “messiness,” I counted each time one driver’s line crossed another driver’s line.

Each crossing indicates two drivers changed places in the rankings. The number of intersections between Bristol and Las Vegas, for example, tells you how much Las Vegas shook up the standings.

Three intersecting lines count as three shake-ups because there are three pairs of drivers crossing.

In 2021, Las Vegas had nine intersections, Talladega 13 and the Roval only five. This seems consistent with our hypothesis that Talladega is the biggest shaker-upper in the second round.

Talladega Timeline

In addition to being only one point, the 2021 Talladega contest poses another problem. Bubba Wallace won the rain-shortened race, which went 311 miles instead of the scheduled 500 miles.

That raises the possibility that 2021 might not be the most representative year for Talladega races. I therefore repeated the analysis going back to 2017. Since we didn’t have stage racing — and thus stage points — before 2017, it doesn’t make sense to compare previous years.

The table below shows the shake-up index from 2017-2021. Note that the first and third races changed from year to year.

A table summarizing the shake-up index for Talladega and other races in the second playoff round from 2017-2021

This five years of data show that Talladega wasn’t always the race that most shook-up this round of playoffs. From 2017-19, Dover and Charlotte held that honor. That’s surprising, especially in 2017. That’s the year 26 of 40 cars failed to finish the Talladega race and NASCAR parked Jimmie Johnson and Matt DiBenedetto.

In 2020, the three races had just about equal shake-up indices.

The Roval has been the third playoff race for only two years. It was equally chaotic with Talladega in terms of affecting the standings in 2020, but less so in 2021. Kansas beat the Roval for switching up the playoff standings twice.

 A caveat for the first race

If you’re surprised to see a larger shake-up for the first race in the second round of the playoffs, you’re not alone.

The 2021 fall Las Vegas race was remarkably uneventful. There were only two DNFs, both non-playoff cars. And one single-car accident that, again, didn’t involve a playoff car. Yet it had a shake-up index of nine.

It turns out that this is a side-effect of the re-seeding protocol.

The graph below shows the same time period as the rankings graph, but reports total points for the top-12 drivers.

A scatter plot showing how points changed for the top-12 playoff drivers in 2021 in the second round of the playoffs

Immediately after re-seeding, the drivers are separated by 57 points from first to 12th. If you omit Kyle Larson’s 30-point lead, the bottom 11 drivers are separated by only 27 points.

Since a driver can earn a maximum of 60 points in a single race, the first race in a round has a lot more impact in changing the standings. In effect, the first race decompresses the re-seeding compression.

After Las Vegas, the 12 playoff drivers were separated by 78 points. After Talladega, the margin grew to 98 points.

The larger numbers for the first races in any round are more due to the re-seeding-induced points compression than to the nature of the track.

Applied to 2022

Drivers don’t have to win at Talladega. They just have to finish ahead of the other playoff drivers. In fact, if a given driver can’t win, the next best case for him is if none of the other playoff drivers win, either.

The largest drop in positions a driver has seen from Talladega is five — and that’s from the rain-shortened 2021 race. On the other hand, drivers have also seen as much as an eight-position gain in the standings following Talladega. That gain was after the 2017 race where more than half the field failed to finish, but at least one driver has come out of the fall Talladega race each of the last four years up at least three positions.

As far as the stats for this year’s second round playoffs so far: Last week’s Texas race had a shake-up index of 14. That’s higher than all but the first year of the stage-racing playoff era.

And the William Byron penalty (which Hendrick Motorsports is contesting) has a shake-up index of seven.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Talladega Superspeedway

0 Comments

The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs roll into Talladega Superspeedway, a center of uncertainty, for the second race in the Round of 12 this weekend.

Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, NBC) could place the first driver in the Round of 8. Any playoff driver who wins the race automatically advances to the next round.

Through the playoffs to date, playoff drivers are batting zero in the race-win category. Non-playoff drivers — Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones — have scored wins in the first four playoff races.

Joey Logano leads the playoff points entering the race. Ross Chastain, who won at Talladega earlier this year, is second.

The four drivers below the cutline are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Byron was above the line earlier this week but was penalized 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. That move lifted Chase Briscoe above the cutline.

Playoff races also are scheduled for the Xfinity Series (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, USA Network) and the Camping World Truck Series (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., FS1) at Talladega.

Here’s a look at the Talladega weekend schedule:

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 78.

Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 74.

Sunday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High of 75.

Friday, Sept. 30

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 2 – 7 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Garage open

  • 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 9:30 a.m. — Truck Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Short-track ace Sam Ard shares Xfinity record with Noah Gragson

0 Comments

Former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard’s name returned to the forefront in the past week as Noah Gragson tied Ard’s series record for consecutive victories at four.

Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits generally aren’t well-known among many who follow the modern sport of stock car racing. He was on the Hall voting list for the 2023 class but was not elected.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ard was a short-track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley, drivers who could show up at virtually any half-mile track across the country and take home the trophy.

He won the NASCAR Late Model (now the Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984, scoring 18 wins across those two seasons. He put together four victories in a row late in the 1983 season, winning at South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.

Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he had wrapped up the seasonal championship with two races remaining. In 28 series starts that year, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 runs. He won eight times.

In the next-to-last race of the 1984 season, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered critical head injuries when his car slid in fluid from another vehicle and hit the track’s outside wall.

That crash effectively ended Ard’s career and impacted the rest of his life. Ard often talked of learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use a walker in a pile of sawdust in his backyard so that the landing would be softer when he fell.

Ard eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2006, responding to Ard’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, launched a drive to raise funds for his family.

Ard, a native of Scranton, S.C., died in April 2017. He was 78.