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NASCAR Daytona 500 Preview: Can Danica Go The Distance?


Danica Patrick poses with her Sprint Cup pole award - image: Stewart-Haas Racing

Danica Patrick poses with her Sprint Cup pole award - image: Stewart-Haas Racing

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When the green flag flies for the start of Sunday’s Daytona 500, Danica Patrick will earn the distinction of being the first woman driver to lead a Sprint Cup field into the first corner. Given her limited success in NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide series racing to date, the question remains: can Patrick turn a pole into a win?

History says the answer is likely no; in fact, the last driver to capture both the Daytona 500 pole and the checkered flag was Dale Jarrett, who did so back in 2000. Since then, a driver qualifying on pole has finished no higher than fifth (Bill Elliott, in 2001).

Plenty of things can happen over 500 miles, especially when you’ve got 42 other drivers ultimately trying to cross the same piece of real estate, in the same position, at the same time. The revised aerodynamics of the Generation 6 cars have forced a change in driving style, and require closer following distances to draft effectively.

The combination of unfamiliar cars and Daytona’s high speeds will almost certainly produce carnage, and the smart drivers will either try to stay up front or far in the back for much of the race.

As for which team or driver has an advantage heading into Sunday’s Daytona 500, it’s hard to say. Last year’s Sprint Cup champ, Brad Keselowski, is starting from the 15th spot, and it’s a safe bet that his Penske Racing crew will do a good job in setting up his Ford Fusion.

Jeff Gordon starts outside Danica Patrick on row one, and Gordon will likely be fast on Sunday, too. The same can be said for his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne (starting sixth) and Jimmie Johnson (starting ninth).

Kevin Harvick already proved his ability to win at Daytona this year in last Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited race, and the Richard Childress Racing driver starts from third. You can never count Kyle Busch out, either, and the Joe Gibbs Racing driver starts next to Harvick in the second row.

Given the off-season changes to cars and teams, the only thing predictable about Sunday’s race will be its unpredictability. There’s a 60-percent chance of rain on Sunday in Daytona Beach, which could through yet another element of uncertainty into the mix if the race is delayed or interrupted.

If you can’t be at the Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, you can catch the race live on Fox television, beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.
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