When Danica Patrick flat-footed Daytona for a lap faster than anyone else, earning the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500, all hell broke loose. She had 742 stories written about her historic accomplishment, the first woman to sit on a Daytona pole, and she was cast as a favorite to win the 200-lap race.
What did she really accomplish, though? All Patrick had to do was hold the gas pedal down and keep the car against the bottom line on a wide-open track. There was no braking, no car control, really. It was just a joy ride. Kyle Petty could’ve done it.
Before I go any farther, I want to clarify that this column isn’t an attack on Patrick’s driving ability, or Petty’s for that matter, but rather a comment on the media who continue to glorify all the wrong driving feats.
It happened again at Daytona this year, when Austin Dillon put the No. 3 on the inside of the front row and at Talladega, when Brian Scott joined the end of the Richard Childress Racing train in knockout qualifying and earned his first pole. What did either of them really accomplish? Both lost the lead almost immediately and were never factors to win, even in the crapshoot that is restrictor plate racing.
The icing on the cake, though, revolved again around Ms. Patrick. Type “Danica Patrick Talladega” into your favorite search engine and you’ll find more stories about the six laps she led than if you did the same search for “Flight 370.” Well, she did become the first woman to win a superspeedway race, right? Actually, she didn’t, and she wasn’t even close. She came home 22nd, 11 spots behind Circle Sport’s Landon Cassill, who was probably using an engine assembled in 1998. A constant over-achiever, Cassill is a story — one that should be picked up on far more.
Patrick’s performance on Sunday, by comparison was anything but. She led six laps early, and much was made about her becoming the first woman to lead at Talladega, but since when is leading at that racetrack an accomplishment? More than half of the drivers in the field led laps on Sunday, including Cassill. Almost any fan of the sport knows that leading a green-flag lap at Talladega or earning a pole there doesn’t mean as much as if it were to happen at a track such as Darlington, where driver skill and setup play a much bigger role. If Dillon, Scott or Patrick were to race their way to the lead there, a major story would be warranted.
So no matter your feelings on superspeedway racing, what happens in those events needs to be put into perspective. Driver feats at Daytona and Talladega need to be viewed through a different lens. That’s something many fans understand, but much of the media, who are supposed to be experts on the sport, clearly do not. Many will see this week’s stories and misdirect their anger at Patrick, but she didn’t climb from her car after a 22nd-place finish and beg the media to write about her. The Cup racing sophomore actually seemed rather disappointed in the run because she put it into context, something several of the writers who wrote about her failed to do.