Gorches: Pole results in Danica-mania boost
February 21, 2013 10:56PM
Crew chief Tony Gibson, left, shakes hands with driver Danica Patrick before she gets in the car to run in the first of two 150-mile qualifying races for the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
The annual Post-Tribune Fantasy NASCAR contest has returned for a sixth season. Each week readers pick five drivers and points are based on the same system NASCAR uses in its standings. Lineup entries can be submitted via email (email@example.com) or phone (219-314-3797). Entries can also be texted to that cell number. No faxes, please. With your entries, please include your name, hometown and a contact number. First and second place each week will be entered into a drawing in July for tickets to the Brickyard 400.
Steve T. Gorches’ picks: Danica Patrick, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart
Updated: March 23, 2013 6:43AM
Are you ready for the Post-Tribune’s sixth annual Fantasy NASCAR contest?
It’s been so popular over the last five years that some former readers who have moved out of the area have called just to see if we still have it — one of them all the way from Idaho.
The answer, of course, is yes. Each year we’ve been able to provide tickets to the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) in July, and we plan on doing that again if IMS says yes again.
And we have a great start to the season — at the very least it’s an interesting start — before the first actual race.
Are you ready for Danica-mania?
OK, so that craze has been part of the American landscape for more than seven years. Patrick has gained huge popularity as arguably auto racing’s most successful female driver ever, and has made a living off one career victory — that came in 2008 in the Japan 300 IndyCar race. One win in 115 IndyCar starts, no wins in 58 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts with a top finish of 10th on her way to 10th in the points last year, millions of fans — most of whom are female — and millions of dollars in endorsements.
Hey, it’s the American way, right?
But Danica-mania is going to get worse — or better depending on how you look at it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m right there with Danica on her popularity explosion bandwagon. Maybe part of it has to do with getting a chance to ride in a Honda NSX sports car for two laps around IMS with Danica as part of a media promotion during Formula One United States Grand Prix week back in 2005 a couple months after she finished fourth in her first Indianapolis 500.
I still remember sitting in the passenger seat with a really tight helmet on my head (insert joke here about having a big head) and getting a little scared when Danica was riding only a few inches away from the wall at 140 miles per hour.
“It’s a little different going the opposite way,” she told me that day about driving the Grand Prix road course, which goes the opposite way of the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 oval.
There were many old-school racing fans who didn’t buy the hype. Now the racing world is all about hype after Danica earned the pole for this week’s Daytona 500.
The naysayers will tell you there’s no guarantee she even leads a lap despite being on the pole, and she sounds cautious headed into her first full season in the Sprint Cup Series.
“I have no doubt that I’ll be extremely nervous,” Patrick said. “There will be 42 anxious drivers behind me trying to get ahead. It’s a handful.”
Of course, the only other time she won a pole in a NASCAR race was last year at Daytona for the Nationwide race. She finished 38th, so think wisely before picking her in the opener of the P-T Fantasy NASCAR contest this week. At least one Las Vegas sportsbook has her at 40-to-1 odds to win despite being on the pole.
Another thing to remember is that restrictor plate races are unpredictable. Can one of the top drivers, such as Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon (qualified second right next to Danica), Tony Stewart or defending series champion Brad Keselowski, win? Of course, but more than likely it will be someone not as well known or successful, like Trevor Bayne or Jamie McMurray.
And the wildcard this year is the new Gen-6 car. As ESPN analyst Ricky Craven said, the only thing the same on these cars compared to the previous cars are “four tires and the steering wheel.”
He admitted that was a little exaggerated, but pretty close to accurate. All the notes these teams have put together over the years at Daytona need to be thrown away with the new car set-up, which is 150 pounds lighter. That may not seem like a lot, but to a driver it makes a huge difference. You’ll definitely see a difference in the corners with instability the theme.
But hey, you don’t have to worry about that as a Fantasy NASCAR contest entrant. You’re not driving, just picking five drivers.
So who am I picking as my five? Well, I will break down and go with Danica, as well as Gordon despite both being on the front row. The chances of the top two qualifiers in the field finishing close to the front at the end are slim, but I’m a gambler. My other three picks are Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Stewart, who has 18 career wins at Daytona, but never a victory in the Daytona 500.
Bring on some rubbin’ and racing.