If there's one thing that can be learned from the duel qualifying races at Daytona it's that the front row starters are in a difficult position. The #1 and #2 qualifiers have their positions locked in, and earned that right on Sunday. The problem becomes trying to make sure that everything with the car is maintained up till the Sunday of the race.
This has been especially the case of the pole sitter, who this year is Danica Patrick. It's no secret she has been fast throughout the first week of Speedweeks at Daytona, and her earning the pole is a distinction no one can take away.
But now she's in a spot that can be both good, and evil, come time for the Budweiser Duels on Thursday.
Keep this in mind, it was two years ago that Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the pole for the Daytona 500, with teammate Jeff Gordon on the outside. But in practice the day before the Duels, Junior got caught up in a wreck coming off turn four, meaning a backup car, meaning starting in the back for his qualifying race AND the Daytona 500.
It put him and the team in a box, because rather than leading the field to green, right from the get-go he would have to find a partner to work his way to the front.
Fast forward to this year and now Patrick is in a similar spot as her former boss in the Nationwide Series was. She earned her first career pole in the biggest race of the year, but unlike most weekends, there's still a lot to prepare for long before the green flag waves. The Duel races have provided a lot of headaches and heartbreaks in the last few years, as well as some chaos.
Patrick has a couple options of what to do in her Duel race, which surely her team will discuss leading up to it and through Wednesday's practices.
First, the option to run full-tilt through the race and go for the win is always there. We've seen in recent memory even the pole winner or outside pole winner has gone on to win the Duel, despite already having their starting spot secured. At the same time, much like what happened with Junior, the risk of doing that means being up front at some point, but then also falling back, risking getting caught up in a wreck, and likely pulling out the backup car for competition.
The other option, which one could argue could be smart although maybe a bit cowardly, is to run some laps up front, as well as in the pack, so that she can feel how the car reacts both at the front of the draft, as well as in the middle of it. Then, rather than risk damage to the car, pull into the pits and park for the race.
Could be a cowardly act so that she doesn't hurt her starting spot, but at the same time it also means no risk of damage to the car, less wear on the engine and transmission, and a chance to watch her teammates to see what their cars do during the race.
Obviously, the second option comes with mixed ideas and likely a lot of questions should it occur, but at the same time provides less risk of losing that starting spot heading into Sunday's race. The big advantage for Patrick is that she's in the first duel race, which historically has seen less drama and less wreckage than the second, due to the fact drivers in the first duel often have to wait and see how things shake out in the second to see if they race in the big show.
The important thing Patrick will have to do is make sure she doesn't risk losing her pole position due to damaging her primary car. After the duel, the focus will be to not damage the motor or transmission, as after that, replacing those components also mean a start at the rear of the field for the 500.
No matter what the team decides, the important thing for Patrick and the entire GoDaddy.com team is to play it smart in the Duel, making sure she leads the field to green on Sunday.
If she is able or has a chance at winning the duel, wouldn't be surprising if she goes for it. But, if there's any risk of her causing more harm than good, it also wouldn't be surprising to see her pull in and park for the race.
It's a touchy situation, one that only she and her team will decide come Thursday.