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Danica and the Pole. [Updated ... And how about the race?]

She did very well indeed. Like everyone she felt out the new car, particularly for the first half of the race. Was alert to opportunities but sensibly conservative to her reaction to them. The lead offered itself and she claimed her place in history. (Janet Guthrie had led the 500 but under a yellow.) Perhaps Danica’s “rookiness” showed most in the pits but she made no mistakes—just maybe didn’t elbow hard enough coming out. Tony will tell her. It’s difficult out of that first pit to go from a dead stop to the speed you need to compete with cars approaching with momentum.)

So what happened that last lap? She earned third – had it at the white flag. Then the reason I don’t like Daytona and Talladega much is “circumstances” put their whimsical cat’s paw into it.

The cars in the lower lane got that last fraction of closeness and suddenly the hook-up went really operational. The same foot on the same pedal at the same pressure now meant a leap forward. That’s brilliance? No that’s circumstances. Were Dale jr. and Mark Martin suddenly more clever? Were the drivers in Danica’s lane suddenly inept? Why are they going backwards? The Daytona Circumstances!

And Little E, NASCAR’s favorite child of good-luck/bad-luck, takes a happenstance second. And Danica a perplexing 8th. But she took it well. Puzzled, annoyed just shy of damned-mad and her competitiveness unfazed. A new record for a woman is nice but not enough because that is not what it’s about.

Just remember, racing at the super-speedways has that coin-toss thing built in. (Consider: Jeff Gordon – in it all day—ended up 20th.

Back to my normally-scheduled post ...

So a woman driver, a punch line in jokes since the first carriage chugged down the road without a horse pulling it, turned in a faster time than anyone else that day thus winning the pole position in NASCAR’s biggest race of the year. Perversely, one that opens the season rather than closes it. She becomes the first woman ever to do that. Out of the scant handful, one might point out, who have been allowed to try.

Ah, let us search for deep meaning in this; everyone else seems to have.

I would say it means she was well-prepared, well-taught, well-equipped and performed impeccably. Need it means anything more?

Poles are unique things. Run against a clock during the moment and against other cars only in comparison. No drafting, no faking out another driver or out-braking someone in a corner. It is a unique, detached, separate thing there simply because every race has one. But, whish, wave the green flag and it’s reset time.

Pole winners are not any more likely to win the race – indeed less so – than other drivers who have qualified. And so ephemeral is the glory in winning a pole in an ordinary weekend of NASCAR racing that the late Monty Roberts, a marketing guy from Anheuser-Busch, came up with the idea for the Busch Clash, an end-of-season race open only to the pole winners of the season. Whatever they call it now – Shootout or something – the race definitely adds more lasting weight to the feat of qualifying first.

Doing that at Daytona means you don’t have to sweat out will you make the clash this year?

Danica, you’re in!

The pole winner at Daytona has a little more importance in Sunday’s 500 than on other weekends: the Daytona pole means that person has locked in that position for Sunday. And the second fastest (Jeff Gordon in this case) has locked in his place. Otherwise they would be subjected to the willy-nilly-ness of how they finish in the two qualifying races that pad out the big opening week of the season.

The other advantage of being in that front row is that everyone else is – as of that moment—behind you. You have a clear view ahead, clean air and a good chance of maybe, possibly, leading at least one lap.

But all of the specialness of being first is quickly consumed by the roar, the intensity and the excitement of it all. The Pole is over: the Race has begun.

This particular pole, however, will be different. First, the Daytona 2013 pole was a humdinger. I don’t care whether it was driven by Dan Patrick or Danica Patrick it was a thing of beauty executed to perfection.

And it was Danica Patrick who did the driving. This slip of a long-haired beauty who became the first woman to accomplish that feat has made this pole special. Tony Stewart, owner of Danica’s racecar, holds some “firsts” as well as some “onlys” himself. As he said: “There’s only one first time.”

This was rookie Danica’s first go at it. She aced it. First woman. That’s what this pole means.


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