Breaking Barriers and Blazing Trails; Danica Rockets to 500 PoleBy Justin Tucker
Back in January, at pre-season testing at Daytona, Danica Patrick showed she had a fast race car. The question that remained was could she back up what she ran at the pre- season test? On a sun splashed Sunday afternoon at the Daytona International Speedway she answered that question in historical fashion.
Going out 8th in the qualifying order, Patrick rocketed around the 2.5 mile speedway at a speed of 196.434 MPH. The 2nd fastest restrictor plate lap in speedway history. Only Jeff Gordon proved to be any kind of threat to Patrick and history, just missing the pole by .033 seconds. Patrick’s pole winning lap was the first by a woman in NASCAR’s premier series.
In the grand scheme of the spectrum what does this moment mean for NASCAR and Motor Sports in general? Whether you want to admit it or not it means everything. On Sunday afternoon when the field takes the green flag for the Daytona 500. Millions will be glued to their TV sets and many of those will be viewers that have never watched a single lap of a NASCAR race. Why, you ask. It is because a female will lead the field to the green flag in the biggest of the year on NASCAR’s biggest stage.
An even bigger question is now what are the expectations for Patrick heading into the Daytona 500? For many it could be now that she has won the pole she must deliver in the race. But that is not the case here. Patrick has already exceeded the expectations placed upon her heading into speed weeks at Daytona. Now it is just about achieving goals one small step at a time. That means leading laps and scoring solid finishes. Winning races,top 5′s, and top 10′s will come as for right now it is all about confidence while still adjusting to stock cars from the open wheel ranks. Maybe this pole at Daytona isn’t such a big surprise after all. After all she has led laps on Indy Car’s biggest stage the Indianapolis 500. A race she very nearly won in 2005.
On Sunday afternoon at Daytona where Patrick finishes the Daytona 500 won’t be the big story. The big story has already been written. Patrick’s run with history during qualifying now could possibly set the stage for other women in the sport such as Johanna Long and Jennifer Jo Cobb to get opportunities with top race teams. Danica is proving that women can compete in a world that has always been dominated by men. Whether she wins the Daytona 500 or not is irrelevant this weekend. What truly matters is the barriers that held women in Motor Sports back are now being broken. Look for the ladies of NASCAR to now become major players in the sport and blaze trails for others to follow. NASCAR is no longer a game for just the boys. The girls are showing that they are more than capable of not only competing with the boys but beating them as well. The Daytona 500 just took on a whole new significance with just one lap on Sunday afternoon.