Danica Patrick has a chance to once again make history on NASCAR’s biggest stage, but winning the pole doesn’t guarantee any success in Sunday's race.
Patrick became the first female driver to secure the pole position in a Sprint Cup race, and she couldn’t have picked a better time to do so. The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s premier event, and with all of the lights shining on Patrick, she’ll be in position to solidify her career in the sport.
Patrick deserves credit for what she has done thus far, but she has a long way to go to be considered one of the best drivers in NASCAR.
Buddy Baker won the Daytona 500 in 1980 and knows a thing or two about NASCAR’s premier event. Baker doesn’t feel Patrick has the experience to win the Great American Race but thinks she could certainly gain a lot of it this weekend (as quoted by Mike Brudenell of the Detroit Free Press):
I hate to burst your bubble and any other folks who might think Danica can win. When the race starts, it ain’t qualifying.
Frankly, she’d be the first to tell you she’s still learning. I got a feeling she’s going to fall back in the pack once the race begins. She’s got a very fast car, and if she runs 500 miles without any trouble, she’ll learn enough to be competitive next year.
Baker isn’t taking anything away from Patrick; she certainly has the talent to surprise everyone on Sunday with a strong showing. But she still has to prove she can be a dominant presence in the sport.
Patrick experienced some success in the Nationwide Series, posting seven top-10 finishes in 58 races. A 17th-place finish is the best mark on her Sprint Cup resume, though, in 10 races on the circuit.
All that can change in 500 miles on Sunday.
Patrick has the chance to earn a lot of respect with a strong showing at the Daytona International Speedway. A win would certainly cement a position among the top drivers of the sport, and while winning will be her goal, a top-10 finish would also go a long way in earning the respect of the rest of the field.
Earning the pole position was a step in the right direction. She has put herself in the best position to win on Sunday—a feat that would no doubt land Patrick in the record books and in the discussion as one of the best drivers in the Sprint Cup Series.
Now she just has to prove she has what it takes to win it.