Danica Patrick sets several big female racer records in the Daytona 500
Danica Patrick is in the running for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year award and we can expect the gorgeous GoDaddy girl to run the entire schedule this season. Her campaign for Rookie of the Year got off to the best start possible on Sunday February 17th when she claimed the pole position for the 2013 Daytona 500. Patrick’s lap speed of 196.434 miles per hour not only made her the first female to hold the pole for the Daytona 500 – it was also the first time that a woman held the pole position for any race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (dating back to the days that this was known as the Winston Cup Series).
Next, while Danica saw outside pole sitter Jeff Gordon quickly claim the lead as the field entered the first turn, Patrick hovered around the front of the field all day long. Even when a big crash took out some of the front runners early on in the race, Patrick’s GoDaddy Chevy SS ran in the top five for almost the entire race. In the few events that she fell out of the top five (which were usually due to pit stop cycles that eventually saw her shuffle back to the front), she was able to work back to the front of the field. Those efforts paid off as, on lap 90, Danica Patrick became the first woman to lead a NASCAR Sprint Cup under the green flag and she did it in the biggest race of the season. Her first lap led in the Daytona 500 didn’t come without serious opposition as Denny Hamlin lead a quartet of Toyota Camry race cars that were working to take away the top spot but she was able to hold them off for the record setting lap. Patrick set the pace for laps 90 and 91 before finally being overtaken by Hamlin. However, on laps 127, 128 and 129, Patrick added three more laps to the list of those she led.
Finally, as the 55th running of the Daytona 500 drew a close, Danica Patrick found herself sitting in the third spot behind race leader Jimmie Johnson and second place driver Greg Biffle as he field took the white flag. With one lap to go, Patrick was just a few car lengths out of the top spot and it looked like she had a very real chance of taking a shot at the win. Unfortunately for the GoDaddy team, as the field entered the long back straightaway, Dale Earnhardt Jr lead a small group of cars including those driven by Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman along the inside lane – forcing themselves past both Greg Biffle and Danica Patrick. As a result, the #10 GoDaddy Chevy was shuffled back to the 8th spot as they crossed the finish line. However, in finishing 8th in the 2013 Daytona 500, Danica Patrick posted the highest placement of any female driver to ever compete in the NASCAR “big league”.
Coming into the 2013 Daytona 500, I questioned whether Danica Patrick could really compete with the big names. She showed in qualifying that she could turn out a fast lap but I doubted that the sexy brunette would be able to go fender to fender with the big dogs. Over the course of 200 laps, Patrick was able to stick with the biggest names in NASCAR and while she missed her chance to make a run for the win, she showed that she can indeed keep up with the best that the sport has to offer. It seems that the only thing that Danica didn’t do in the Daytona 500 was win but with a long racing season ahead of her – 2013 could be the year where a woman wins a NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
After the race, Patrick was quick to point out her one flaw during the 2013 Daytona 500 and that was a lack of aggressiveness. During post race interviews, Danica was quick to question whether she should have made a more aggressive move towards the front of the field late in the race but for a rookie racer in the sport’s biggest race – an 8th place finish after spending the day at the front of the field is an incredible start to the season. She has shown that she knows how to get to the front of the field and that she can run with the fastest cars…now she just needs to show that she knows how to get around them as the checked flag falls.
Image: Danica Patrick’s Facebook page