Danica Patrick angry with NASCAR over ‘Dega qualifying, questions its diversity program

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Danica Patrick was among multiple drivers that voiced their displeasure over social media at NASCAR’s modified qualifying format last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

But as she revealed yesterday at Martinsville Speedway, Patrick also did the same in person at the NASCAR hauler before commiserating with her boyfriend/fellow driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., one of two full-time Cup racers that failed to qualify for last weekend’s GEICO 500.

“I was really pissed off after qualifying,” she said to reporters. “I mean I went to the NASCAR hauler and I said ‘What the — is this? Is that what we were trying to accomplish?’ Part of it was because it was Ricky, and part of it was because that could have just as easily been me.

“And, I know how important those races are to me and my team, but also my sponsors and the people who invest in those events, especially the big ones at the speedways…Those are all very big races for us every year, all four of those, obviously particularly the Daytona 500. And so, I was fighting for not having someone that wasn’t deserving being in that situation.”

Patrick said she didn’t receive a solution to her problem, herself noting that it probably wasn’t the best thing to argue with NASCAR president Mike Helton. However, she believes they understood her thoughts on the qualifying format.

“The last thing we want to do is lower the car count for qualifying in Sprint Cup because we don’t have the cars to fill,” she said. “I’m sure that they understand and they will do everything they can to make appropriate changes…I’d be surprised if there weren’t changes made for next year.”

As for Stenhouse, whose best qualifying lap at Talladega was completed after the session had ended, he’s back this weekend at Martinsville and will start 18th in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500.

Patrick was also outspoken on another topic that was brought up during her Friday presser at Martinsville.

When asked about the current state of NASCAR’s diversity program – an appropriate topic considering the tributes being made this weekend at Martinsville in honor of NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee and African-American driver Wendell Scott – Patrick appeared to question its need.

Here’s the exchange between Patrick and a reporter on the subject:

Press: IT IS THE 50-YEAR MILESTONE OF THE TRACK PRESENTING A GRANDFATHER CLOCK AS A TROPHY, AND ALSO THEY ARE RUNNING SPECIAL PAINT SCHEMES TO HONOR WENDELL SCOTT HERE, WHO HAD TIES TO THE AREA. WITH THE SPECIAL PAINT SCHEMES AND THE TRIBUTES IT ALSO BRINGS TO LIGHT SORT OF THE DISCUSSION OF THE DIVERSITY IN NASCAR, AND WITH YOU…

Danica: “I have never benefited from the Diversity Program.”

Press: SO I GUESS FOR YOU, IN YOUR EYES, WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE FOR MORE WOMEN…

Danica: “Well, clearly then I wouldn’t think that there needs to be a Diversity Program if I’m here and I didn’t get in. It wasn’t like they asked me to be in it. They didn’t give my team or me any money. They didn’t say we’d love you…you know? So I would say that you have to just make it. And I’m not saying that being a girl hasn’t helped, but I didn’t need a program to make it happen.”

NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations Jim Cassidy has since issued a response to the Charlotte Observer, saying that the sport is “fortunate that there are many different paths of entry into our sport for our participants” and that it’s “seen a growing number of talented diverse and female drivers compete in NASCAR thanks to our Drive for Diversity program started in 2004.”

Patrick certainly has the right to share her opinions, but you can’t help but wonder if she’s rankled NASCAR’s higher-ups – particularly with her comments on the diversity program, which has been emphasized in recent years as a chance for minorities and female drivers such as herself to get either behind the wheel, in the pits, or into other areas of the sport.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.