Danica Patrick has won the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500, becoming the first woman to win a pole in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Race. Yes, this is record-setting for both Patrick and NASCAR, and starting on the front row of the Daytona 500 is a good feeling let alone winning the pole. But lest we forget, it is not where you start, it is where you finish.
The Daytona 500 is NASCAR's biggest race of the year, but there is one thing that devalues it -- it is a restrictor plate race. Restrictor plate races are more car oriented than driver. The drivers do not have to lift going into the corners, it is a completely different kind of racing than what NASCAR is normally accustomed the other 32 races in the season. To put it black and white -- it is a crap shoot. Patrick has one of the most powerful engines and one of the best cars at her disposal, so running good would just seem natural at a track where driver skill is not the prime factor.
Winning a pole does not make you the sports next superstar, especially at a restrictor plate race. Loy Allen Jr. was the first rookie pole sitter for the Daytona 500 in 1994, and he also won poles at Atlanta and Michigan, but he DNQed for 12 races and never even cracked the top 10 once the whole season. He never won a race in his NASCAR career and only had one top 10 in his career. Success? As far as the stats go, no. Only two other rookies have won poles at the Daytona 500- Jimmie Johnson and David Gilliland. Gilliland had a one hit wonder type career, while Johnson has gone on to great heights.
Danica has always been hyped naturally because she is a woman, and woman have always drawn attention in top levels of racing because they are an oddity. What makes Danica stand out differently from woman drivers is that Danica has always been in top-tier equipment (Rahal-Letterman, Andretti Autosport, and now Stewart-Hass Racing), so she has high standards set for her there as opposed to a woman driver like Shawna Robinson. Robinson was never in a good car in NASCAR and her skill is just fair, so a fair driver in a backmarker car is not going to be judged by her peers or the press or held to a high standard like Danica, who has always been in a good car.
Danica had good equipment behind her in Indycar, but she won one race on a fluke and had good runs here and there, but she never consistently ran well enough to contend for wins and championships week after week. She finished 5th in points in 2009, but there is a big counterpoint. During that era of Indycar, the only teams that were championship quality teams were Penske and Ganassi. Those two teams won a great majority the races and no one came close to beating them on race day, partly due to the relatively uncompetitive Dallara IR-03 chassis, (flat out racing on ovals, difficult to pass, and a pig on road courses). So if Danica was in a Penske or Ganassi car, she very well have won as many races as Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Dan Wheldon, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti or maybe even a championship. The level of competition in NASCAR is much higher, and it is combination both driver and car in order to be a contender.
One track where she ran very well at was Indianapolis, she came within one corner of winning the pole at Indy in 2005 and good strategy put her up front in the waning stages of the race and finished fourth and out of her seven starts she finished six of them in the top 10 on the lead lap.
The bottom line is Danica needs to put her money where her mouth is. It does not matter that she brings a lot of hype towards herself and NASCAR; if you do not have the goods to back it up, it becomes a moot point. She has always had a good car behind her in Indycar, and she has run just okay there. I don't know, maybe running a 3,600 pound stock car will suit her better than an open wheel car. We just have to wait and see what happens on Sunday.