Danica Patrick and crew chief Tony Gibson learned what they needed to learn, then played it safe and finished 17th in their Budweiser Duel qualifying race Thursday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
The Budweiser Duel consists of twin qualifying races that set the 43-car field for the season-opening Daytona 500, but Patrick was already locked into the Great American Race. She will start from the pole for the 55th Daytona 500, as she set the fastest lap in qualifying last Sunday, which locked her into the No. 1 starting position.
Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), had nothing to gain in the Budweiser Duel other than experience and information. She got both, starting on the pole and staying up front for the first 10 laps of the 60-lap race around the 2.5-mile superspeedway. After learning how her car performed in the draft, she dropped to the rear of the field to avoid any potential accidents, ensuring that the same GoDaddy.com Chevrolet that set the quickest lap in time trials would start from the pole in the Daytona 500.
“It’s not an exciting mission when you’ve just got to bring it home,” Patrick said. “But, it’s for the Daytona 500, so you’ve got to keep that in mind. I learned that the outside (lane) is strong and it carries a lot of good momentum. And then I learned that you need some friends. I also learned that you can’t be too tight because that outside (lane) is what’s good, but you can’t be too tight, which my car was. It was way too tight at the start. But we wanted to be conservative. We didn’t want to have any issues with the Go Daddy Chevrolet. We wanted to make sure we’ve got it on that front row for Sunday.”
Patrick battled an issue with the tachometer during her one pit stop of the day on lap 42. Drivers use the tachometer to determine their speed down pit road, where they must mind 55 mph speed limit. When Patrick looked down at her dashboard, her tachometer was broken.
“Again, it’s not the most exciting way to race, but something was wrong with the tachometer,” Patrick said. “I didn’t know what speed I was doing, so I just went really slow (down pit lane). I tried to hit the right revs and I realized there are no lights for those revs. So, I knew there was something wrong, and then when I got out there on the track, it showed I was going 10,000 rpm. I’m sure I’d love to have the kind of speed that comes with 10,000 rpm, but it wasn’t right. So, it’s good to get those little bugs out of the way. We’ll fix them and be solid for Sunday with the Go Daddy Chevrolet.”
Gibson, her crew chief, was pleased with the day.
“The important thing is the car is in one piece for Sunday,” Gibson said. “She learned what she needed to learn, but the car is in one piece for the big race. We’ll tear the car down and change everything out, the tachometer obviously too, and do some practice on Friday and Saturday. It’s always a challenge to get through the Duels clean and we did that. Just really proud of everyone on this team and everyone at Go Daddy for supporting us.”
Patrick’s teammate and car owner, Tony Stewart, led the way for SHR by finishing sixth in the first Budweiser Duel race. Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, will start 13th in the Daytona 500.
SHR’s Ryan Newman finished 21st in the second Budweiser Duel after a cut right-rear tire with 20 laps remaining forced an unscheduled pit stop and dropped him off the lead lap. Newman, driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet, earned the 34th starting spot for the Daytona 500, but because he’s going to a backup car due to the damage sustained from the flat tire, he’ll be forced to start the Daytona 500 from the back of the 43-car field.
Kevin Harvick won the first Budweiser Duel by .165 of a second over Greg Biffle. Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch took spots three through five. The rest of the top-10 consisted of Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Casey Mears, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano.
Kyle Busch won the second Budweiser Duel by .093 of a second over Kasey Kahne. Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth took spots three through five. The rest of the top-10 consisted of Mark Martin, Paul Menard, Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray and David Ragan.
With the Budweiser Duel now complete, the field for the Daytona 500 is set. On the pole is Patrick, and alongside her is Jeff Gordon. By notching the two quickest times during last Sunday’s time trials, both drivers were able to lock themselves into the front row for the Daytona 500.
Failing to qualify today for the Daytona 500 were Brian Keselowski and Mike Bliss.