Typically it’s not considered polite to ask a woman about her weight, but that apparently doesn’t apply if you’ve won the pole for the Daytona 500.
The question of whether Danica Patrick’s weight — or lack of it compared to fellow Sprint Cup competitors — gave her a competitive advantage in Sunday’s 500 qualifying came up on Wednesday. The simple answer is: maybe, but probably not.
According to the NASCAR rulebook, drivers who weigh less than 180 pounds have to add 10 pounds to their car for every 10 pounds down to 140. Therefore, the maximum penalty would be 40 pounds.
Patrick arrived at Daytona International Speedway weighing 110 pounds, according to her representatives. So theoretically, her car could have been 30 pounds lighter than the car driven by 150-pound Jeff Gordon, who qualified second.
Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, Patrick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammates who exceed 180 pounds, qualified fifth and fourth.
“There’s two thought processes,” series director John Darby said when asked whether a lighter driver could have an advantage. “One is the heavier driver will help compress the springs more and help pull the car down out of the air.
“The other school of thought is any time you can save weight, you’re saving weight. At the end of the day I don’t think it matters.”
This isn’t the first time Patrick’s weight has been an issue in racing. In 2005, Robby Gordon said Patrick had an unfair advantage for the Indianapolis 500 and said he would not compete in the event unless the field was equalized.
Gordon, a former open-wheel driver who also competed in NASCAR, contended Patrick had an advantage because all of the cars weighed the same and there were no adjustments made for a driver’s height.
“The lighter the car, the faster it goes,” Gordon said at the time. “Do the math. Put her in the car at her weight, then put me or Tony Stewart in the car at 200 pounds, and our car is at least 100 pounds heavier.
“I won’t race against her until the IRL does something to take that advantage away.”
At the time, the IndyCar had to weigh 1,525 pounds before the fuel and driver were added. In 2008, the league ruled the minimum weight would include the driver.
Patrick wasn’t happy.
“If someone’s going to take the hit, it’s going to be me,” she said at the time. “It’s disappointing the league decided to do that. In so many other sports, athletes don’t get penalized for being too strong or too tall or too fast.
“[It’s] just your God-given stature is being penalized. What am I going to do, though? It’s not my decision. That’s the people higher up [who] made their bed, and they’ve got to lay in it.”
In the Sprint Cup Series, the car must weigh 3,300 pounds based on a driver weighing 180, an adjustment from 200 last year. Where Patrick could gain an advantage is that the 40 pounds her team is required to add to the frame can be positioned at a lower center of gravity than the driver.
All of the weight must be added to the left side. The right side for all cars must be 1,620 pounds, according to NASCAR’s rulebook.
“What’s a shame is everyone is pointing at Danica going, ‘Oh, she’s 40 pounds light,'” Darby said. “But what about Mark Martin [125 pounds]? … There’s half of the field that doesn’t weigh more than horse jockeys anymore.”
Drivers don’t appear to be concerned. Jimmie Johnson said it’s no big deal. Matt Kenseth joked that if Patrick keeps going fast, they need to add a lot of weight “on the roof.”
“When you’re talking about Martinsville, yeah, you can talk about an advantage to being lighter,” Darby said. “Here, most of the cars are heavier than what they should be anyway.