Danica buys her way into Daytona 500

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

TORONTO - When Dave Blaney woke up on Tuesday morning he must have thought: “What did I do to deserve this?”

This, was the fact that his NASCAR Sprint Cup team — Tommy Baldwin Racing — had sold, or otherwise negotiated away his qualifying exemption for the 2012 Daytona 500 so that darling Danica Patrick would have a clear track for her first attempt at the biggest stock car race on the planet.

All Blaney had done in 2011 was drive the heck out of the underpowered, underfunded No. 36 TBR car. The Buckeye Bullet, as Blaney is better known as in dirt track circles, finished the season 32nd in points.

That significant bit of work earned him and the team a pass to the starting line up in this month’s Great American Race.

But sometime over the past several weeks Tommy Baldwin and Tony Stewart — Patrick’s team owner — agreed to a deal that would allow the Stewart Haas Racing No. 10 Chevrolet to use Blaney’s qualifying exemption.

This is not new, it has been done before countless times — in fact Andretti Autosport did exactly the same thing at the 2011 Indianapolis 500 to get Ryan Hunter-Reay into that race after he failed to get on the grid on speed.

But this does not make it right.

Patrick’s much ballyhooed move to NASCAR from the IZOD IndyCar Series, of course, was a big boost for her GoDaddy.com sponsorship agreement.

And there is no way that Patrick or Stewart was going to put that seven-figure deal in jeopardy by chancing that she might not be fast enough to earn one of the 43 spots through the qualifying process.

As both TBR and SHR will very likely say: It was just business.

Dave Blaney might disagree.

THE RICH GET RICHER

This week’s annual report from the International Speedway Corporation should put to rest all those rumours that NASCAR popularity is on the wane.

The France-family-controlled ISC reported a 4.5% increase in profits from a year earlier. It also reported that it had sold more than 85% of the seats at its tracks that hosted NASCAR Sprint Cup races in 2011.

While there is some smoke and mirrors involved here in that ISC had reduced capacity at many of those tracks — for example capacity at Michigan International Speedway is now 84,000, down from 129,000 — it is still very good news that tickets are selling at those events.

ISC also said that it has reduced prices at most events to an average of $82 a ticket, down from about $85 a year earlier.

Still not too shabby in a downtrodden U.S. economy.

FINISH LINES

Edmonton will be again represented this season in the NASCAR Canadian Tires Series with Noel Dowler, son of former Toronto Indy winner Kevin Dowler, in the seat of the No. 5 EMCO Dodge. The younger Dowler will compete in all of the races this season in a car be prepared by D.J. Kennington’s race shop in St. Thomas, Ont. ... Ex-Formula One driver Rubens Barrichello looks like he has all the backing he needs to end his racing career in the IndyCar series. The Brazilian native tested Monday and Tuesday with KV Racing Technology at Sebring ... Two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso said this week he is confident he can bring another title to Ferrari after a down-year for the Italian super team. And Ferrari apparently thinks so to, agreeing to extend Alonso’s contract through the 2017 season ... Former Force India driver Adrian Sutil has been given an 18-month suspended sentence after being found guilty of assaulting Lotus team co-owner Eric Lux with a champagne glass following a fight in a nightclub after last year’s Chinese Grand Prix. In addition to the suspended sentence, Sutil was fined $263,000 (US) ... In yet another astounding leap forward in his life since losing both legs in a horrific crash at Germany’s EuroSpeedway Lausitz during a CART race in 2001, Alex Zanardi said this week he is working on entering next season’s Rolex 24 at Daytona in a specially equipped race car for the Target Ganassi racing team. “At the moment it’s just an idea we all like, but nothing is programmed yet,” Zanardi told autosport.com. “But the conditions would be there next year and I’m certain that BMW and Target would be ready to support such an operation, because it would be a nice story to tell.” It certainly would ... There was a fire Tuesday in the machine shop at Joe Gibbs Racing in Huntersville, N.C. It was the second such fire in as many years. No injuries were reported ... Quote of the week goes to Ford’s John Force on his NHRA team with daughter Courtney: “We don’t have any egos here, well, except me and Courtney.”


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