Daytona 500 polesitter Danica Patrick, right, talks to crew chief Tony Gibson on Wednesday. Patrick enters the race 40 pounds lighter than any of her male competitors, and some think that will give her an advantage Sunday.
WHO: NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers.
WHAT: 2013 Daytona 500, first official race of the season.
WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Daytona Beach, Fla.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Sometimes, it pays to be a lightweight.
That doesn’t mean, however, that a 40-pound weight advantage will help Danica Patrick significantly at Daytona International Speedway.
Yes, a lighter car is generally viewed as a better car. And, yes, the total weight of Patrick, plus her race car, is 40 pounds lighter than it is for almost every other driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Why? Because, for practical purposes, the NASCAR rule book assumes that every driver weighs at least 140 pounds.
By rule, a Sprint Cup car must weigh 3,300 pounds. Where the weight of the driver is concerned, for every 10-pound increment below 180 pounds, 10 pounds of weight must be added to the car. So if a driver weighs between 170 and 179 pounds, the car must weigh 3,310 pounds to compensate.
For a driver who weighs between 160 and 169 pounds, 20 pounds are added; for a driver who weighs 150 to 159 pounds, the car must weigh 3,330 pounds; and, finally, for a driver between 140 and 149 pounds, the weight of the car must be increased to 3,340 pounds.
The Sprint Cup rule book does not address weights lower than 140 pounds. As a consequence, the combined weight of Patrick and her No. 10 Chevrolet SS represents a 40-pound advantage over almost every other driver/car combination in the field. Mark Martin, a 40-time winner in Cup racing, is listed at 125 pounds on Michael Waltrip Racing’s web site.
The question of a weight advantage has never been raised in Martin’s case. It did, however, become an issue when Patrick won the pole for the Daytona 500.
The truth is that Daytona is a track where a lighter car/driver combination is of negligible benefit, says ... well ... just about everyone.
“Talent being equal, I’ll take the less weight every day,” said Andy Petree, former Cup crew chief and car owner and current ESPN analyst. “It’s always an advantage. Now, how much? How much can you say and measure is difficult.
“I think at Daytona, you couldn’t measure it, (because) it would be so small. It would make very, very little difference, especially qualifying.”
The bottom line is that lighter weight hastens acceleration, but during qualifying and racing at restrictor-plate superspeedways, acceleration isn’t the issue.
“Qualifying here is about terminal velocity,” Petree said. “It’s not about acceleration, because the car really doesn’t accelerate while you’re qualifying. It accelerates up to speed, and really what limits the speed is aerodynamics over horsepower.
“That’s really what it is. The weight comes into play when you’re accelerating, like at a Charlotte or Martinsville. Her car might get up to speed a little quicker, but once it gets there, it’s not going to be any faster. I don’t see that being an advantage (in the Daytona 500).”
Because the driver sits on the left side of the car, Petree believes the weight difference might have a measurable effect at a road course, which features right-hand as well as left-hand corners.
The weight that’s added to the car to compensate for a lighter driver can also help lower the center of gravity — another potential benefit for Patrick.
But driver Matt Kenseth doesn’t think the weight advantage is a significant issue.
“I don’t think it’s a huge deal,” Kenseth said, then added facetiously, “but, yes, if she keeps running that fast, then I think she should have to add a bunch of weight and mount it on the roof.”
DALE JR. BLOWS ENGINE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran 11 laps in Wednesday’s opening practice before the engine in his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS expired.
Because of the subsequent engine change, Earnhardt will start from the rear of the field in today’s first Budweiser Duel 150-mile qualifying race.
“I don’t know what happened,” Earnhardt said of the engine failure. “We’ll just start at the back of the qualifier (Thursday) and try to race up through there.”
NEWMAN'S SPIN TRIGGERS CRASH: Racing in close quarters with Carl Edwards during the first practice for today’s Budweiser Duel 150 qualifying races, Ryan Newman’s Chevy SS got loose and spun across the nose of Edwards’ Ford. Those two cars, and the Toyota of Mark Martin, all sustained damaged in the ensuing crash.
“I was up close to Ryan, and then all of a sudden his car just got a little loose, and there was no space,” Edwards said. “I could have given him more space, but I don’t think either one of us really understands why his car got so loose.
“It was just all of a sudden, and he was turned sideways. It’s really interesting — and something I’m going to be careful for during the race.”
The wreck was a clear indication that drivers still have much to learn when it comes to controlling NASCAR’s new Gen-6 race car.
“I didn’t know what happened and (Edwards) honestly admitted that he didn’t know what happened,” Newman said. “Just all of a sudden, my car was going across his nose. He did say that he tried to come up and put the air brakes on me (by side-drafting).
“I think, in doing so, it just made my car that loose. I hadn’t been loose the entire time. It was just something new and a different characteristic of this car I guess.”
The damage was not extensive enough to force any of the three drivers to a back-up car.