A win Sunday would vault the Danica Patrick media frenzy into levels reserved for Hollywood starlets and celebrities.
She’s already under intense scrutiny now as the first woman to win pole position for the Daytona 500, American stock-car racing’s Holy Grail.
That means she’ll start from the front row when NASCAR begins the season tomorrow in Florida. She’ll have 42 other drivers staring her down from behind, and an entire racing nation watching in the stands and on TV.
If anyone is ready for the intense media scrutiny, it’s Patrick. In celebration of her big race, here are the top 5 Danica Patrick career moments.
5. Danica vs. Dan vs. Duno
OK, let’s get this out of the way quickly. You’re as likely to know Patrick from her encounters with drivers Dan Wheldon and Milka Duno as her endorsements and accomplishments.
During practice for the 2008 Honda Indy 200, she confronted fellow female driver Duno about her being too slow. Duno retaliated by throwing a towel, twice, into Patrick’s face. Of course it was caught on video.
She confronted Wheldon a year earlier in Milwaukee with Patrick challenging the leaders. She and Wheldon got close and Patrick lost control, finishing eighth. She grabbed Wheldon after the race and offered him some choice criticism.
Wheldon, however, had the last word when he said, “There's a lot of pressure on her because she has not won a race, and her teammates are (winning).” Ouch.
4. Indy 500
There are few races that carry as much cache as the Indy 500. Historic and grueling, Patrick became the first woman to lead a lap at Indy during her first attempt in 2005.
Patrick became the fourth woman to race Indy and finished the race in an impressive fourth place. She went on to become the 2005 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year, and told USA Today winning at the Brickyard remains a goal despite her migration to stock cars.
“I’ve come close,” she said last fall. “It would be nice to finish that off.”
3. First Pro Win
Unfortunately for Patrick, most people missed her win at the 2008 Japan Indy 300 due to the extreme time difference. It’s unlikely that bothered Patrick, who had generated plenty of headlines and expectation until finally breaking through.
“It’s going to be nice not to have to answer those questions anymore,” she told The New York Times then. “They were just so hard to answer, because I believed in myself. I just didn’t know when it was going to happen.”
2. Super Bowl
Patrick and her sponsors haven’t missed an opportunity during America’s annual advertising extravaganza, stripping the petite 30-year-old driver from her fireproof racing coveralls for swimsuits and shower scenes.
While her commercials generate hundreds of thousands of views, they also generate heat from those who say she’s degrading women and downplaying her talent. She better keep her fire suit fastened.
“The fastest woman in the history of Indy car racing — again, an absurdly dangerous sport requiring rapid reflexes and superior strategizing — became a (shudder) ‘Go Daddy Girl,’” journalist Laura Helmuth wrote at Slate.com.
1. Dayton 500
Her eighth-place result proves Patrick’s talent should anyone need further evidence. She’s won at every level she’s competed at, and winning pole position for the 2013 Daytona 500 could transcend all her previous accomplishments.
NASCAR is now dominant in America, attracting the best racers and teams competing on the sport's biggest stage. Daytona is a dangerous, demanding race and Patrick became its de facto favorite in only her second season behind the wheel.
“I’ve been lucky enough to make history, be the first woman to do many things,” she said this week. “I really just hope that I don't stop doing that. We have a lot more history to make.”
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