Danica Patrick, Winning Poles and Blazing Trails

Like it or not, Danica Patrick is in the history books.

During Sunday’s qualifying session for next week’s Daytona 500, Patrick claimed the pole, becoming the first woman to do so in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Also, she is now the first female to grab the pole at Daytona International Speedway.

Patrick went out early and rode the bottom during her two-lap run, shooting to the top and staying there, even as 33 other cars qualified after her. Nobody was really surprised; the No. 10 was fast during the January test and practices yesterday. Even drivers were talking and tweeting about how she would be hard to beat.

The media darling will lead the 43-car field to the green flag next Sunday, but will she win it?

Like every year, the Daytona 500 is a free-for-all type of race, but we all know it isn’t. Some cars have an obvious advantage over others. It’s more likely for Danica to win than, say, Josh Wise or Dave Blaney.

We have to factor in equipment, race conditions, experience . . .

Conclusion? Just because Danica Patrick got the pole doesn’t mean she’ll win. She still has to survive the draft, The Big One, and all the pressure that comes with running the first (and the biggest) race of the year.

But, it doesn’t mean she won’t win either.

I predict that, in her first Daytona 500 as a NSCS rookie, Patrick will finish 12th. I believe she has a great car. Stewart-Haas Racing has a top-notch setup in that machine. As she said in her interviews, it’s 90% about the car, 10% about the driver.

If she keeps her nose clean, she will do well.

Don’t think that I’m downplaying the fact she’s made history: before this, the highest qualifying position for a female in the NSCS was ninth. That was posted by Janet Guthrie at both Talladega and Bristol in 1977. Guthrie also held the best starting position for a woman at Daytona, 18th during the 1980 Daytona 500.

Last year, Danica also won the Nationwide Series pole at Daytona, the first woman to grasp the top position in that series since Shawna Robinson in 1994 at Atlanta. Miss GoDaddy is the second Rookie to earn a Daytona 500 pole, her predecessor being Jimmie
Johnson, who conquered that feat in 2002.

To sum up all that factual jargon: this really is a big deal, for all female racers and impressionable young girls alike.

All I can say is that history has been made, and more is yet to be written.

Will Danica Patrick be the wielder of the pen? Only time will tell.

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