Did less junk in the trunk put Patrick on the pole? Puh-lease

Conspiracy theorists were abuzz the moment Danica Patrick crossed the finish line the fastest in qualifying for Sunday’s Great American Race, becoming the first female to grab the pole in Daytona who was not working at one of the many strip clubs that surround the track.

After covering the fastest sport on four wheels for 15 years, I’ve always been suspicious of NASCAR qualifying. Back when the sport was still trying to gain traction with the mainstream media, I witnessed too many “feel good” stories come out of a Friday when little other news was breaking.

I can’t and won’t recount any alleged pole-fixing scandals, in part because it doesn’t matter. Starting first in a 500-mile race is like matching the first number of your Powerball ticket; it rarely pays off in the long run. But it seemed like whenever Ricky Bobby had a new sponsor or Bobby Ricky was coming back from an injury, they miraculously won the pole and the bounty of media coverage that came with it.

Of course, only NASCAR kept the official times in those days. Now, and especially at Daytona, live TV with real-time scoring, prevent the NASCAR P.R. brigade from rigging qualifying. Still, some Elvis fans and Bigfoot believers immediately began grumbling that NASCAR had gone so far as put Patrick on the pole to serve as the poster girl for the new age of NASCAR’s good ol’ boy system.

Laughable, yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a popular opinion. The latest conspiracy theory says that NASCAR rules give Patrick an unfair advantage for (how should I put this?) having less junk in the trunk than her male competitors. I’m sure new boyfriend/fellow driver Ricky (Bobby?) Steinhouse Jr. doesn’t appreciate all this talk about Patrick’s bedonkeydonk, but here’s their beef.

The NASCAR rule book assumes that every driver weighs at least 140 pounds. Although women are notorious for fudging a bit on their weight, Patrick tips the scales right at 100 pounds, 40 pounds less than the rule recognizes and far lighter than every other competitor in the lineup. But how does her weight factor into the equation? Stick with me for a little math:

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 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. Why almost? Because Mark Martin, a 40-time winner in Cup racing, is listed at 125 pounds.

The question of a weight advantage has never been raised in Martin’s case. It became an issue when Patrick won the pole for the Daytona 500. The truth is, however, that Daytona is a track where a lighter car/driver combination is almost as negligible as starting from the pole.

But that’s not enough for the NASCAR naysayers who don’t believe women drivers belong on the highway, much less the racetrack. Heaven help us if she actually wins the thing. Maybe Elvis and Bigfoot will greet her in victory lane.

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