Grand Marshal and Oscar nominated actor James Franco thought he was being unique at Sunday’s Daytona 500 as he bellowed, “Drivers – and Danica - start your engines.’’
Enough is enough. Danica Sue Patrick is one of the boys now.
No one needs to make a point that there’s a woman behind the Go Daddy wheel.
Notice the good ol’ girl Southern name of Danica Sue. There’s nothing frilly about this driver. She’s all about racing.
She competed a number of years in open wheel racing. Her best Indianapolis 500 finish was third. She spent the past two years on the Nationwide Tour. There were seven top-10 finishes. At the end of last year, fans voted Patrick Nationwide’s most popular driver.
Patrick is the total package. She is savvy, speaks her mind and stands up on her own two legs. At the same time, she is attractive and - at 30 years old - recently divorced.
She and fellow Sprint Cup rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have become a recent item. They announced last month they are dating.
Having posted the highest finish ever for a female driver in Sunday’s Daytona 500, Patrick earned some street cred in the garage area.
The only other female to even make a dent in NASCAR’s highest division was Janet Guthrie. Guthrie did have a sixth place finish at Bristol in 1977. I was working in Daytona Beach when Guthrie was driving and Patrick has so much more potential to offer. She is not only competitive with equal equipment, but a marketing godsend for sponsors.
Patrick has only 11 Cup races under her belt and is smart enough not to rush things - to keep learning and improving at her pace and not someone else’s.
She is probably kicking herself since the checkered flag declared Jimmie Johnson the winner. She was riding along in third place on the top shelf of the 31-degree banks of Daytona. As the race was tightening, there wasn’t a lot of movement. Patrick failed to advance and slid to fifth, finally falling to eighth.
She will study and learn what she could have tried. Maybe she was locked in and had no safe move.
“I think that it would be unwise to sort of start telling myself that top 10 is where we need to be every week,’’ Patrick told reporters after the race. “I think that is setting up for failure. The list of drivers in the Cup Series is deep. This is a unique track. These (Cup) tracks are different and unique. There is a lot to learn about the car. I mean, you have to be smart enough to do the right thing at the right time. But it’s very much about the car.’’
Patrick is fortunate to have crew chief Tony Gibson. He has the experience and patience to mentor Patrick.
Her No. 10 Chevy SS was fast enough to take the pole position. Now she needs to work on improving each race, storing up knowledge so she can make quick decisions without hesitating.
The more attention she gets, there will be resentment among some drivers. She needs to block all that out. It’s a dangerous sport and there is no place or purpose for that - but it’s there. It’s not uncommon for male drivers to get sideways with each other, sometimes leading to fisticuffs.
Patrick is no exception. After Sunday’s race, she is one of the boys now.
Sports Columnist Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee and a 2013 inductee to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.