NASCAR is always making headlines during Daytona 500 weekend, but Danica Patrick's No. 1 starting position is generating even more buzz in the circuit's biggest race. By capturing the pole during qualifying, the 30-year-old groundbreaking female driver is proving her worth and versatility as a driver.
Patrick started out her career for seven years on the IndyCar circuit, but in 2010, she converted to stock cars on the Nationwide Series. Now, with several seasons of experience under her belt, she is proving that she is worth the hype that has surrounded her ever since she burst onto the racing scene in 2005.
It seems that stock cars will bring more tangible success than Patrick had with open-wheel racing, where she notched just one victory.
Not that such an accomplishment is anything to scoff at—especially in such a male-dominated sport, in which a woman had never before won a race. Still, it seems that NASCAR may be more of the niche that Patrick has been seeking if her early success is any indication.
She has seamlessly adjusted to the new Generation 6 cars, which hasn't exactly been the case for many drivers at Daytona International Speedway (h/t ESPN via AP). Even veteran drivers such as Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman had trouble controlling their vehicles.
The fact that Patrick became the first woman to hold a pole position in this particular race—while adjusting on the fly to a new type of stock car—makes the accomplishment all the more impressive.
Holding the pole gives Patrick an outstanding opportunity to lead a lap, which, as ESPN Stats and Info points out, would be quite an achievement in and of itself:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Having the pole is no guarantee, but if Danica Patrick leads a lap she'll become the 2nd woman to lead a lap in NASCAR Cup Series history.2/19/2013, 12:02:23 AM
As she has for her entire career, Patrick will have to go against the grain of history if she hopes to win on Sunday. The last pole winner to emerge victorious in this race was Dale Jarrett, all the way back in 2000. The ESPN gurus also note that the past four pole-sitters have been involved in wrecks, which stack the odds even more against her.
Las Vegas insider RJ Bell highlighted just how high the odds are stacked against Patrick by some oddsmakers:
RJ Bell @RJinVegas
I've seen Danica Patrick paying as high as 100/1 to win Daytona 500.2/21/2013, 11:24:22 PM
But Patrick is not one to go along with historical trends. In fact, her career is unprecedented, and every move she makes will continue to generate interest in the sport.
In a sport that could use more star power and the ability to reach a larger audience despite its large following, the ramifications of Patrick winning would be massive. Not only would it give her unquestioned credibility as a driver, but it would also be a landmark moment for NASCAR.
Based on how well Patrick has been able to market her brand, the more she can produce on the track, the more she will enhance the overall brand of NASCAR and stock car racing in general.
Patrick's presence on the pole alone is likely to draw in casual viewers who wouldn't typically tune in. If she continues to display the type of talent that got her to this position, her merit at what she does as her full-time job will be all the more legitimate.
Patrick's success at this race thus far—regardless of Sunday's outcome—could very well springboard a breakout 2013 campaign for her, which can only help America's most popular form of racing.