Whether you like it or not, Danica Patrick has a chance to make history at the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
Considered a "men's" sport for most of its existence, Patrick has a chance to speak to girls everywhere and pass along an age-old message that is sometimes forgotten in the course of our lives—that anyone can do anything they want if they put their mind to it.
Patrick claimed the pole at this year's Daytona 500, marking one of the many firsts she has a chance to accomplish this weekend in Florida.
Many words jump out when thinking about Patrick's chances this weekend. From career-altering to the changing landscape of NASCAR itself, this weekend is monumental for both the driver herself and every other person involved with the sport—driver, official, worker or fan.
For starters, a woman has never won a race in the Sprint Cup series.
It's quite an accomplishment that Patrick won the pole. Although other drivers have discounted that fact as unimportant to the final outcome, they aren't the ones with an advantage when the first lap commences at Daytona.
Is it really an advantage? ESPN's Stats and Info notes that although the pole is a great position to be in, it isn't a guaranteed victory:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Danica Patrick is on the pole for the Daytona 500, but the avg finish for the last 10 Daytona 500 polesitters is 19th.2/18/2013, 8:52:57 PM
Even so, they also note that she'll have a chance to make history for just the second time in the long and storied history of this event:
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
That in itself is game-changing.
Jeff Gluck, of USA Today, noted much of the same in his recent praise of what Patrick is doing. Not only is she making the sport a place that embraces diversity and drops gender from any conversation of rankings or lists, she is making things possible for young girls that aspire towards greatness.
Here's an excerpt from his most recent piece:
On Sunday, Patrick did something only she could — she helped NASCAR's present and future with a single great lap. Somewhere, a little girl watching the coverage of Patrick's pole-winning lap at Daytona International Speedway turned to her parents and said, "Can I be a race car driver when I grow up?"
It's the same kind of impact that athletes like Brittney Griner and Lisa Leslie have had for the WNBA. It's the kind that Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh have had for women's volleyball, and the kind that Jennie Finch had for the United States women's softball team.
However, those are all specific sports. Patrick is treading ground in a sport that she shares with over 70 other men at times, and she is constantly seeking approval from fans and fellow drivers that don't approve of her place in the sport.
In the spirit of fairness, Patrick has been a distraction at times.
Her GoDaddy.com commercials are a major case and point in that regard, as is her recent announcement of a relationship with fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. It's something that fellow drivers like Denny Hamlin have noticed.
Hamlin spoke with Dan Patrick about Patrick's influence on the sport, and he notes that while sometimes overblown, Patrick has brought a new spark to the sport that wouldn't have otherwise been there (via DanPatrick.com): "Dan asked Hamlin if Danica Patrick gets too much attention. 'For the accomplishments she's had, yes,' Hamlin said. 'But what's she's done for the sport … people are willing to forgive that.'"
It's a sentiment that other drivers likely share. And, in the spirit of free speech based on all the events that have transpired in Patrick's career, it's likely a fair shake.
She hasn't won an event yet (on the Nationwide or Sprint Cup Series). Her highest finish in this event is 14th. And for intensive purposes, women haven't proven to be as consistent or a major threat at races like this in the past.
Part of that is ratio of men to women. Part of it is the lack of a talent like Danica Patrick.
That can all change on Sunday night.
If Patrick can secure a win, she'll blow the lid off the conventional norms that NASCAR caters to. Heck, if she leads a majority of the laps in the pole position, she'll accomplish more than anyone ever has in her position.
With a chance to make history at Daytona, Patrick will have most of the eyes on Sunday night. Whether she wins or not is of little consequence—Patrick has already done more for the sport than most women could ever hope to accomplish as a NASCAR driver.
A win would only further the discussion of her place among the top drivers on a yearly basis.
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