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.

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.