17 February 2013

What to make of Danica Patrick winning the Daytona 500 pole

History was made today during pole qualifying for the Daytona 500. After putting together a lap time of 45.817 seconds around Daytona International Speedway, Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a pole for a Sprint Cup Series race, and just the third overall in NASCAR history as well as the first rookie polesitter since Jimmie Johnson in 2002 of the 500, when she edged out Jeff Gordon for the right to lead the field to the green flag next Sunday. Patrick was considered a favorite after she ran the fastest lap in the second practice session on Saturday afternoon and this should keep her the focus all week after her relationship with fellow rookie Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was much-publicized last week.

So what should we make of Patrick's historic lap?

I hate to be a bit of a Debbie Downer but besides the historic nature of Patrick's pole, we should not read much into this. Qualifying at a restrictor plate track is much different than qualifying elsewhere because you are running wide open the whole lot and a good qualifying lap has a lot to do with the equipment. If you have a good car and a strong engine, you going to qualify well as long as you don't spin out or crash. And we know Patrick was in strong equipment as her teammates, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart qualified fourth and fifth respectively.

Plus, Patrick has shown herself to be a solid plate racer. After all, she has worked with guys like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Stewart and Newman, who all are known to be very good on the plate tracks. She qualified in the top three in both of the Daytona races last year in the Nationwide Series, including winning the pole for the season opener, and she ran well up front for much of the race. But, she also crashed out of both races, showing that just because you qualify well does not mean you are going to run well.

So let us not make an enormous deal out of Patrick's pole-winning performance. Let's see how she does in drafting practice this week as well as the Budweiser Duel races on Thursday and that should give us a good indication of how well she will win next Sunday.

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