The 2017 Daytona 500 ended early for driver Danica Patrick after she was involved in a 17-car collision. Patrick described the wreck in the middle of the pack as “treacherous.”
The crash originated with Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 car. However, Patrick was not the only driver to exit Sunday’s race early. Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, among several others, also did not finish the race.
Ford No. 10 driver, Patrick, is blaming NASCAR’s new staged racing for 15 of the 40 drivers being out of the race on Sunday, with about a quarter of the 200 laps remaining. Beginning this season, the races are divided into three stages with points awarded to the top drivers from each stage, counting toward their championship total.
“The stages are definitely going to add to it because not only is it creating a reason to push at certain points in the race that aren’t anything but the last 20, but you’re also seeing it shuffling the grid up,” Patrick said after being cleared by the in-field medical staff. The practice of being checked out by in-field medical staff is now a requirement for those who do not finish the race.
However, Patrick said this new rule isn’t the only one that is leading many drivers to fall short of the finish line. Once an accident has taken place, teams that must return to their pit road have a five-minute limit for repairs. But, if the team cannot repair the cars in that amount of time and return them to the tracks, the driver is out of the race.
Prior to the beginning of this season, teams were allotted an unlimited amount of time to fix their cars and return to the track.
“What you’re seeing is the product of the five-minute clock,” Patrick said. “You’re seeing a product of the news rules of having to go to the in-field care center if you don’t finish the race…I’m totally fine. I drove my car back to the garage. I never would have come to the in-field care center if not for the new protocols, so I’m all for being well, but it’s probably a bit much,” she continued.
Of course, the new rules are not responsible for all of the crashes and early driver exits. Patrick also noted that racing at a superspeedway like the Daytona International Speedway increased the likelihood of accidents when drivers are more often bunched together.
Patrick said on a track like the Daytona International Speedway, drivers assume multi-car wrecks have a “real high chance of happening.”
“Today was fun on a superspeedway, but I grew not to like them that much just because in the law of averages of superspeedway racing, you’re going to crash a lot,” Patrick said. “I’ve had some really, really big ones, so that was probably one of the easiest wrecks I’ve had at a superspeedway.”
“That’s the name of the game. It’s what makes it exciting, too, for the fans,” Patrick said.