If rookie performance awards were handed out at the end of the Daytona 500, Danica Patrick would be walking away with the top honors.
Yes, of the three rookies heading into Daytona, Danica stood out.
Not only did she win the pole position, but Patrick managed to stay up in the top 10 for most of the day, and eventually settled for an eighth-place finish.
She out-performed fellow rookie drivers Austin Dillion and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Danica was a big focus heading into the Daytona 500, especially since she landed on the pole after qualifying.
And while people may have doubted her ability to stay in the front after seeing her drop to the back during the first Budweiser Duel, Danica proved that her fast qualifying time was no fluke.
The other rookies, though, seemed to struggle at different parts of the race.
Austin Dillion started out strong but ended up finishing in 31st. Stenhouse remained quiet for most of the day, but ended his Daytona 500 run with a solid 12th-place finish.
It was hard for any other rookie besides Danica to get attention on Sunday, and even though she was hyped up before the race began, Danica proved the most by the time the Daytona 500 ended.
With all the talk of the relationship between Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse, and how they both will be fighting for the Rookie of the Year award, Austin Dillion was almost forgotten about when the Daytona 500 started.
While he isn’t a full-time Sprint Cup rookie, it was his first Sprint Cup Daytona 500 race.
Dillion qualified well, starting the race from the eighth-place position. He raced hard for a majority of the Daytona 500, but didn’t do as well as Patrick.
By the time the Great American Race was over, Dillion finished 31st, the worst position of all three rookies.
Austin Dillion proved he is on the verge of Sprint Cup success from his strong running on Sunday. Still, Dillion will have a lot of work to do when he finally does make his Sprint Cup Series debut, which will more than likely be next season.
With Harvick leaving Richard Childress Racing in 2014, Dillion will more than likely be brought up to run a full-time Sprint Cup season for his grandfather.
Dillion didn’t have as much to prove as Patrick or Stenhouse, and even though he was out-performed by both of them, he did manage to prove that he is one rookie on which fans should keep an eye.
The Other Half of Stenica
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was one of the three big rookies debuting at the Daytona 500. He qualified the worst out of all three rookies, back in 28th place.
Unlike the other half of "Stenica", Ricky didn’t do much during the Daytona 500. He did, however, manage to finish the race in 12th place.
Ricky is filling a big spot at Roush-Fenway racing, taking over the 17 car from Matt Kenseth.
He seemed like the one rookie that would stand out the most at the Daytona 500 because of his back-to-back Nationwide Series championships.
Instead, Stenhouse struggled throughout the race, and was lucky to finish where he did.
Will all the attention from his relationship with Danica have a negative effect on him? We will need to wait for the rest of the season to find out.
Hopefully he will get the chance to prove himself at one point in the season.
One thing is for sure, though: Stenhouse was out-driven by his girlfriend all day.
Danica Patrick has been one driver who has had many doubters, to say the least.
After failing to deliver during her 2012 Nationwide Series run, how could she be expected to have solid results heading into the Sprint Cup Series this season?
All the attention NASCAR seems to devote to her doesn’t help, and only sets expectations even higher.
She received so much attention last year that her boss, Tony Stewart, felt the need to step in and say something.
“I’ll be honest, I wish everybody would get off her back and just let her go race and let her learn,” Stewart was quoted as saying by Bob Pockrass (h/t AOL)
“Everybody is putting so much pressure on her and so much focus on her. … Everybody needs to take a step back and let this girl learn and do what she’s trying to do there.”
Danica had a lot of hype behind her last year, and when the Daytona 500 started to get closer, she became a major talking point once again.
Especially after winning the pole.
The Internet and media in general seemed to explode with all the talk of Danica being the first female to win the pole at Daytona and the possibility that she could win the Daytona 500.
Her eighth place finish was also impressive, especially for a rookie driver.
Danica made history by placing in the top 10 at Daytona. She may have been talked about a little too much during the media coverage of the Daytona 500, but she still out-performed the other rookie drivers throughout the race.
She proved that she is one rookie to watch after her solid Daytona performance.