The Word: Danica's Daytona Debut
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It may be time to stop referring to Danica Patrick as a female driver.
Pole-winning driver will suffice.
But you can bet most of the headlines will have the word female or woman somewhere in it after Patrick's pole-winning run for Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway (1 p.m. ET, ESPN and WatchESPN).
That's understandable, since she's only the second female driver to win a Nationwide pole -- Shawna Robinson at Atlanta in 1994 was the other. And until Patrick or another woman makes winning a pole and races seem like an everyday occurrence, a big deal will be made of it.
But maybe one day what Patrick accomplished on Friday and hopes to accomplish in NASCAR will make people forego prefacing her accomplishments with "female driver" the same way Tiger Woods no longer is called a black golfer.
"I really don't think about it from a girl perspective," Patrick told reporters after her historic run. "I've been taught from a young age to want to be the best driver. My dad's in here [media center], and he can attest to that. We'd go to a go-kart track, and I'd be a half-second quicker, and he was still ticked off and not happy when we were a second quicker.
"It was about being the best driver and not the best girl."
Patrick is a long way from being the best driver, but you get the point. We live in an era when such tags aren't necessary.
"This is good for the sport," Elliott Sadler said. "It's going to bring more people, more attention."
Some may turn to conspiracy theories, noting the COPD spokesperson will start on the pole for the Drive4COPD 300 race.
Patrick earned this one. Does anyone honestly believe Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., just to name a few, would step aside and let her win the top spot?
Yeah, right. Mr. Nationwide Series Kyle Busch is about as likely to walk up and hug Kevin Harvick as he would let a Chevy driver spoil his debut for his own Nationwide Toyota team, all for the sake of a sponsor he has nothing to do with.
I've always argued that if NASCAR were all about conspiracy theories, as some believe, then Earnhardt would have at least one Sprint Cup title and not be mired in a 129-race losing streak.
So give Patrick props. Defending Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne, who qualified second for the Nationwide race, did.
"I think it's got a good shot for No. 1 on 'SportsCenter' today," he said. "That's always good for our sport. We look for these kind of moments. NASCAR keeps talking about star power, and these are the kinds of moments that are going to help our whole sport.
"Not just Danica or our team, but our whole sport. The more eyeballs, it's all better for us."
True, but again it's because Patrick is a woman driver and not just a star driver.
The pole definitely has to ease some of the criticism Patrick took after Stewart-Haas Racing bought her way into the Sprint Cup Series' Daytona 500. It turns out she needed it, but mainly because of somebody else's mistake in Thursday's 150-mile qualifying race.
Face it, folks. Patrick can wheel a stock car, particularly at Daytona. She qualified fourth for this Nationwide race a year ago and finished 14th. She was ninth on the last lap of Thursday's qualifying race before running into misfortune with two turns remaining.
And remember, she has some of the best equipment in the Nationwide garage at JR Motorsports. That and her dramatic improvement in average finish -- 28.0 to 17.4 -- from 2010 to 2011 in NASCAR's second-tier series is why anything less than finishing top six in points will be a disappointment this season.
Speaking of points, one of the first thing Patrick said during her postqualifying interview was, "Do you get any points for a pole?"
"Darn it," she continued when told no. "I'm in the best possible position to get the most amount of points for Saturday."
That shows her desire to win races and titles, not just poles. But remember, when Robinson won her pole, she didn't lead a lap and finished 36th. I'm betting Patrick will fare better.
Not because she's a better female driver than Robinson was.
Because she's a better driver.