Danica Patrick Is in Fast Lane to Become NASCAR's Brightest Star

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 17:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Chevrolet, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2013 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Richard LangfordCorrespondent IFebruary 18, 2013

Danica Patrick simply needs to sporadically be in contention for victories and/or hover around the Top 10 in the Sprint Cup points race to become NASCAR's biggest star. 

Sitting in the pole position at the Daytona 500 proves she is ready to pull off that feat. 

Winning the pole doesn't guarantee her success at Daytona—winning the pole and winning a race are completely different challenges. 

Sprint Cup races take a fast car and skill, which Patrick displayed in her qualifying runs, but it also takes savvy, flawless excellence in drafting and luck. 

This is not to suggest that Patrick is deficient in any of those categories, but as she begins her first full-time Sprint season, she doesn't have the experience that many of her competitors have. 

I feel compelled to point this out to make it clear that my assertion that Patrick will be the sport's biggest star isn't a projection of dominance based on one qualifying run. Patrick doesn't have to win races to become the biggest draw on the circuit.  

After all, NASCAR is used to having its biggest star not win races. Dale Earnhardt Jr. went four years and 143 races between wins, yet he still maintained an army of supporters and has won the award for NASCAR's most popular driver 10 straight years. 

Now, Earnhardt's popularity extends from a unique, and tragic, circumstance due to the on-track death of his iconic father, but as I'm sure you've noticed, Patrick has a unique circumstance of her own—the key word being "her." 

Patrick is crashing the boys party in a big-business sport. This is always going to catch the public's interest. Because of this fact, there will be those that root for her and those that root against her, but almost everyone is going to be interested to see what happens. 

To fulfill her march to stardom, Patrick has to hold up her end of the bargain, which is to simply be some sort of factor. She doesn't have to be dominant, just competitive enough to make her relevant. 

This is where her pole win actually does hint at success. Patrick's Stewart-Haas team had her Generation 6 car humming for Daytona, and there is no reason to think they won't continue to make sure she has the horse power to compete.

So, while Patrick may suffer through some mistakes born of inexperience, she will be able to atone for that with her ability and car. She will prove she belongs on NASCAR's most elite series, and she will increasingly become the biggest story in NASCAR. 

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