Let’s get this out of the way right now. I’m not a big Danica Patrick fan, but I’m far from a Danica hater.
She’s a talented race driver who someday will win a NASCAR race.
The Daytona 500 on Sunday? It’s possible, but a lot of things must fall in her favor, the biggest perhaps being good old-fashioned racing luck.
Danica stirred the racing world last week when she drove to the fastest qualifying speed for Sunday’s race, becoming the first woman to win the pole position at this level of stock car racing. It was a historic achievement that drew a legitimate amount of attention.
But driving a pole-winning lap at Daytona – a 2½-mile speedway where handling, aerodynamics and pack racing rule the race – is perhaps the least important part of the track time there. Qualifying is a one-car-at-a-time endeavor, while the race will be a three-hour bumper-to-bumper, door-to-door journey at nearly 200 mph.
The driver with the biggest set of, uh, nerves, will win.
Because most of the 43 cars will run in a tight pack, one slight misjudgment often creates a multi-car crash. To a great degree, luck will determine who gets swallowed up in a crash like that and who doesn’t.
The goal is to avoid trouble, stay toward the front of the pack and race for the victory in a no-holds-barred manner the last 20 laps. Despite the headlines Danica created when she set the fastest qualifying time, Kevin Harvick has been the dominant driver the past week, winning the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race last Saturday and one of the two 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday.
Harvick goes into the 500 as the obvious favorite.
Strange things tend to happen at Daytona, though. Otherwise, the late great Dale Earnhardt would have won six or seven 500s (he won it just once). Unknown drivers like Pete Hamilton and Derrike Cope have pulled off shocking victories in the 500, and young Trevor Bayne won it two years ago and has struggled to achieve even a modest amount of success since.
Danica Patrick certainly has a chance.
If her car, part of the powerful Stewart-Haas Racing stable with Tony Stewart as her teammate, runs strong and avoids the bad luck that fells favorites at Daytona, she can race at the front of the pack.
And, if she’s near the front those last 20 laps, anything can happen and Danica just may shake the racing world.
I’m picking Harvick, though.