So, Danica Patrick gets her name back on the sports pages, as the pole winner for the upcoming Daytona 500. Previously, she was, in a sense, the racing version of tennis' Anna Kournikova-- easy on the eyes, but hard on the sporting heart. Coming into Pole Day yesterday at Daytona, she was best known for dating a fellow NASCAR rookie than for her driving skills. This pole changed everything-- she goes from the social pages to the sports pages. How did she go from back pages to front pages? Let's review...
1. She has a reservoir of un-fulfilled potential that is finally coming to the fore. Flashes of that potential have come through-- in an IndyCar win in Japan, and in her leading laps late in a recent Indy 500-- but inconsistency has dogged her tire tracks. Maybe she is FINALLY reaching the level everyone expected when she blasted on the scene in the mid to late 2000's.
2. She has hooked up with NASCAR's best team-- Hendrick MotorSports. If she can't win with Hendrick, she isn't going to win with anyone else. Danica is going to win races-- that much is clear; how many is a matter of discussion.
3. Her experience with IndyCar racing has helped her get accustomed to the media blitz in NASCAR. She is bringing new fans to the sport; with more consistent performances, she will win over established fans and drivers. Even with that, it will be a struggle-- but will make it easier for the next talented female driver to make the move. But whoever that may become, she won't be Danica-- there will be only one Danica.
So Danica is poised to become a major NASCAR player-- on the track, as well as off it. However, history tells us Daytona pole success doesn't usually turn into Daytona race success. The last pole-winner at Daytona to win the race is Dale Jarrett; he won the pole and the race in 2000. Can Danica turn that record around? Could happen...after all, she beat the odds on Sunday.
That's my take-- I'm Tom Lee.