Danica Patrick and her team won the pole for the Daytona 500 Saturday. I was frothing right along with her other fans. Here's an overview story from The Sporting News. Here's a great story about Danica and Jeff Gordon's daughter from USA Today.
I fully expected all the crazy trains to pull out of the station the second she won the pole. A few reasons it was NOT a big deal was, according to them: 1) plate racing is all about the car (Danica herself said it was 90% car and 10% driver) 2) winning the pole is not winning the race (that's a given), 3) she had a weight advantage (that old chestnut) 4) NASCAR rigged it (my personal favorite).
I'm not even going to get caught up in all that crazy. Here's the deal: winning the pole is cool. It's earned on the track. It's not winning the race but it is an achievement. I neither overplay or underplay its importance. As Danica said it's mostly about the crew and the car on a track like Daytona. But someone's gotta drive it, and the driver IS part of the team.
And the "first woman" thing ... I respect it a bunch, but that's not what frothed me up Sunday. I was cheering for a driver I like and that driver won the award. It wasn't about being the first woman, it was about Danica being the fastest driver, male or female.
But as the father of two daughters, it is nice to have a woman doing things like this, because it helps other women and girls of all ages say "wait a second, maybe I could ..." As Danica said in her post-race interview:
“It's … nice to hear families talk about the fact that a little girl might say, ‘But, mommy, daddy, that's a girl out there. Then they can have the conversation with their kid about you can do anything you want and being different doesn't by any means not allow you to follow your dreams.
“I love to think that conversation happens in households because of something I'm doing.”
I was very proud to see people I admire like Sarah Fisher, Janet Guthrie, Pippa Mann and many others take to twitter and elsewhere to congratulate Danica. That's showing me and the world a huge amount of class. When Sarah tweeted her congrats, I had to take a moment.
One more thing. I reject this exhortation for everyone to "get on the team" and be Super Happy about Danica winning because it will be good for NASCAR. Yeah, about that .. "Put on a happy face!" is lame when you aren't happy. Don't feel obligated to act happy that being happy about what Danica does or you're somehow pissing on NASCAR. That's wrong and it only backfires. It's not up to fans to ensure NASCAR survives. It's up to fans to like who they like and cheer for who they want to cheer for. If that's Danica, great. If it's not, that's fine too. Period.
Winning the pole doesn't mean much at all for the race. The last four or five pole winners hae not done that awesomely in the race. So I won't overreact, but I will enjoy it, and I urge all Danica fans to do the same without letting the haters harsh your buzz. I'll post the video from her news conference as soon as I find it.