After stealing the show at the 2013 Daytona 500 practice session on Saturday, Danica Patrick made history by running an astounding 196.434 mph lap in qualifying on Sunday, becoming the first woman to ever win the pole for any NASCAR race.
Now that it’s clear Patrick is starting the race on the front row, the question of where the second-year driver will finish the 500 is the talk of the racing community.
While the primary focus of the questions leading into this event and after her pole win were about her accomplishments as a woman, Patrick told the Associated Press (h/t NPR.com) that this is about driving and winning races; not her gender.
I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl. That was instilled in me from very young, from the beginning. Then I feel like thriving in those moments, where the pressure's on, has also been a help for me. I also feel like I've been lucky in my career to be with good teams and have good people around me. I don't think any of it would have been possible without that.
For those reasons, I've been lucky enough to make history, be the first woman to do many things. I really just hope that I don't stop doing that. We have a lot more history to make. We are excited to do it.
Patrick is an inspiration to women across the world—breaking down gender barriers and throwing stereotypes to the wind—but she needs to prove at the Daytona 500 that she is as talented as she is billed to be.
In just 10 races during her rookie season, Patrick averaged a 28th-place finish and didn’t have any top-10s all season. With a pole win at the Super Bowl of races to start the new year, the 30-year-old driver has the chance to start the 2013 campaign off with a stellar finish.
Patrick doesn’t have to win the Daytona 500 to make a huge splash, but if the pole winner can stay out of trouble and finish the race in the top 10, maybe even the top five, this would be the most successful race weekend of the star driver's career.
The No. 10 GoDaddy.com car she is driving is obviously fast, but how it handles in front of 43 other cars on Sunday and how Patrick keeps it out of trouble for the entire race will be the most important factors in her pursuit of a Daytona 500 win.
There is no questioning Patrick’s racing skills—she showed her true ability during her tenure in the Nationwide Series—but she must put it all together for an entire Sprint Cup Series race to be considered one of the best.
Patrick is on the cusp of being an elite driver, and Sunday’s Daytona 500 will be her coming-out party.
Official Prediction: Danica Patrick Finishes Sixth in the Daytona 500