Nascar Race Buddy, Buddy Baker’s nickname when he drove was Leadfoot. Baker’s average speed of 177.602 m.p.h. in an Oldsmobile in winning the 1980 Daytona 500 for car owner Harry Ranier is still the fastest for the race. So when Baker, who is 72 and looks 10 years younger, talks about what it takes to win the “Great American Race,” tuck it away. The four-time Daytona pole winner believes it will be a very good, perhaps great, driver who wins Sunday’s 500 — and that it won’t be pole-sitter Danica Patrick. Not this year, anyway.
Baker wasn’t being cruel when he told me this morning: “I hate to burst your bubble and any other folks who might think Danica can win. When the race starts, it ain’t qualifying.”
What Baker meant, he said, is that Patrick, the Stewart-Haas Racing rookie, will need time and miles at Daytona International Speedway to win stockcar racing’s crown event.
“Frankly, she’d be the first to tell you she’s still learning,” Baker said. “I got a feeling she’s going to fall back in the pack once the race begins. She’s got a very fast car; and if she runs 500 miles without any trouble, she’ll learn enough to be competitive next year.”
Baker said the “best of the best” have come off the track and said the new Gen 6 Sprint Cup car is a handful, adding, “I don’t think Danica is ready for a handful.”
That doesn’t mean Patrick can’t be a force at Daytona in the future, Baker said.
“She’s not a bad driver,” said Baker, who ran in NASCAR in 1959-92, captured 38 poles and won 19 races. “She wasn’t the best on the IndyCar circuit, but she sure looked the best. Who is to say, in two years’ time, she may be down here, and everybody is saying she’s paid her dues and now has the ability to go out and run with the top guys and girls.”
Is Patrick good for NASCAR, and should more women take a crack at the sport?
“I haven’t found a whole lot in life that a woman couldn’t do that we (men) could do,” said Baker, who, at 6-feet-6, was one of the biggest and toughest drivers ever to compete in NASCAR. “Danica is amazingly strong for her size and is a PR dream. She has a lot of fight in her.”