Danica Patrick won the pole for the Daytona 500. What should expectations be for her first Sprint Cup season?
By Graham Hays
Expectations for Danica Patrick's first Sprint Cup season should be measured. And people should be nice to each other, and our public discourse should be civil. Which is to say, reality is rarely what it would be in a perfect world.
For all the reasons routinely cited, from some portion of the audience simply not wanting a woman to succeed on one side to her own willingness to market her brand to a degree that necessarily raises expectations on the other side, Patrick is going to be judged by the unforgiving standard of whether or not she wins a race or races. Winning the pole for the biggest race of the year only heightens that, even if one bit of wisdom even those of us who aren't die-hard racing fans have gleaned for years is that qualifying and racing at tracks like Daytona don't have much correlation to the bulk of the racing workload.
Over the past five seasons, an average of 6.6 drivers per year won at least one pole but did not win a race. In almost every one of those instances, those drivers did record at least one top-10 finish and usually one or more top-five finishes. (Casey Mears in 2012 and Joe Nemechek and Patrick Carpentier in 2008 are the only drivers who won a pole without also recording at least one top-10 finish). In her first full season at this level, Patrick would logically seem analogous to the second tier of those drivers. If she wins at Daytona or elsewhere, great. But if she records a couple of top-10 finishes and perhaps a top-five finish, she would meet what history seems to suggest are reasonable expectations for any driver in her position, Daytona pole or not.
By Jane McManus
There are a lot of people out there who can't stand Danica Patrick. So now that she has earned the pole at the Daytona 500, it's just another opportunity for people on message boards and elsewhere to springboard into a discussion about how overhyped she is.
Well guess what, haters? She deserves the hype because she's earned that, too. Breaking into a professional sport is hard enough, even when you don't have to defy every prevailing stereotype in order to do it. Her detractors have tried every way they can to cut her down, even saying her small size gave her an unfair advantage in a car built for speed.
She was the first woman to win an IndyCar race, but that gets dismissed because it happened to be in Japan, as though the laws of speed and physics are different across the Pacific. She has led laps at the Indianapolis 500 and came in third there in 2009. But as Patrick keeps proving she deserves her spot in the professional ranks, it just makes those who resented her from the start madder.
It will be a big deal when Danica Patrick eclipses the notoriety of her ill-considered ad campaign with a win. That's not what getting pole position is, but it's still an accomplishment in her sport worth celebrating. Nothing equals success like (another) win, but earning the pole is another sign Patrick is more substance than hype, which really chafes her detractors.
By Kate Fagan
Winning the pole shows Danica Patrick has a fast car, obviously. But while her performance this weekend is a great achievement (she's the first woman to take the pole for a NASCAR top-division race), we won't know exactly what it means until we see the race results. She has the team and the equipment behind her, but what will she do with those things?
Right now it's hard to say what expectations should be (we need to see some races), although it's safe to say it's going to be an interesting season. Danica has shown she can handle distractions -- she had four top-10 finishes in the Nationwide Series last year -- but everything is going to be amped up even higher this year because (A) she's running Sprint Cup full-time and (B) she and Ricky Stenhouse have gone public with their budding romance.
I expect her to be competitive. And I expect that we'll all keep talking about her a lot.
NASCAR has shown a genius in successful marketing and getting all drivers to tow the "company" line in regard to honoring sponsors and promoting the brand. That mindset, merged with the "Danica Patrick Advertising Machine," was really a perfect match.
Even if you don't care much for the near-soft-core-porn of her GoDaddy commercials or her overall calculated avoidance of taking on social topics, it's actually very difficult to dislike Patrick. For someone who's been obviously groomed as a shrewdly packaged, mega-marketing machine, there is still -- amazingly -- a substance to Patrick that isn't obscured by all the style.
She has proved herself over the long haul in motorsports: intensely dedicated to her career and with enough talent to lure the folks who can put her in the best machines with the top mechanics.
Given those advantages, she's utilized them -- while still managing to apparently build and maintain good working relationships with her fellow drivers. That's quite a nimble skill for the most visible female in a mostly male endeavor.
Credit NASCAR drivers for, again, understanding the marketing aspect of this for their sport. Whether they wanted to talk Danica or not, virtually all of them did in regard to her winning the Daytona pole. And they didn't just say the "right" things, they actually sounded like they meant them. They know what a golden goose is, and how that benefits the whole circuit.
They won't give Patrick an inch on the racetrack, and she doesn't expect them to. But her accomplishments in Sprint Cup really are a win for all of motorsports.
By Melissa Isaacson
It's not as if Danica Patrick isn't prepared for this.
Winning the pole position for the Daytona 500 may be the biggest achievement in her racing career. It also makes her the first woman to be in that spot in any race in the NASCAR series. But Patrick has made history before, finishing third at the Indy 500 four years ago, the highest for a woman. She was also the first woman to win an IndyCar race five years ago in Japan.
"I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl," she told reporters this weekend.
In an interview I did with Patrick five years ago for the Chicago Tribune, she talked about racing in the junior series in England as a teenager. Mechanics and engineers told her she should be home serving tea. Fellow drivers said worse.
"It hardened me up, made me a different kind of person," Patrick said. "It was difficult, lonely. Every time I think about it, I think of how bad it was. But I overcame it and what's that they say about what doesn't kill you makes you stronger?"
That's what they say. Wrote a song about it, even. And it explains why Patrick could not be more prepared for this moment.
By Michelle Smith
Danica Patrick's earning the pole position at Daytona is a milestone moment, a first in the storied race's history and a rocket-fast start to her career as a Sprint Cup racer. Interest in Patrick's career has always been high, but it's been based more on her celebrity than her ability to consistently win.
Now she's out of the gate quickly at Daytona, one of the cornerstone events in motorsports, and it's going to mean a bigger national audience, more mainstream attention and huge expectations. Always considered more flash than substance, Patrick has an opportunity here to establish herself as a force in her sport, not just a pop-culture icon. That would be a bigger milestone for her than racking up more "firsts."
Patrick, for her part, seems to want to do away with milestones. She has said she was "brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl."
It would be fantastic to see her close the deal.