Danica Patrick may have made NASCAR history by becoming the first woman to win the pole position for the Daytona 500, but it will be nothing but a footnote if she doesn't follow that up with a strong performance in the Great American Race.
I don't mean to completely diminish her accomplishment. Winning the pole of the Daytona 500 is an honor—especially considering it was just a year ago, in this race, that Patrick made her Sprint Cup Series debut, and that this is scheduled to be her first full-time year on the NASCAR premier circuit.
While this is an early statement that Danica and her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing team are ready to make some waves in the Sprint Cup Series, that will all be undone if she struggles in the upcoming race.
Winning the pole shows a team and driver ready to tackle the upcoming race, but make no mistake about it, it is a completely different animal than winning a race, and this figures to be a wild race.
With the introduction of the Generation 6 cars, the racing at Daytona should go back to the tightly packed bunches that we've seen in past decades.
This, combined with the fact that these drivers will still be getting acclimated to the new cars, is almost certainly going to lead to a big wreck or two, lots of lead changes and interesting strategies.
It's not like Danica is going to be able to take this pole and run away in clean air for 500 miles. She is going to have to display her ability to run in packs, work the draft and employ a sound strategy.
That is a lot to ask of any driver just a year after making his or her series debut—even if that driver proved in qualifying to have the fastest car.
It is in the bumper-to-bumper action of the race where Danica has to prove her true potential for the upcoming season.
If she can come out and get herself in contention at the finish of the race, that will be her ultimate statement. It is at that point, where her pole position triumph won't be seen as just a footnote, but an announcement that Patrick is ready to run with NASCAR's elite.
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