So Danica Patrick made history at Daytona Speedway this past weekend, becoming the first woman to earn a pole in a NASCAR Cup race.
Barrier broken. Attention gotten. Let the marketing begin.
The moment was not lost on Jeff Gordon, still a viable NASCAR driver even in his 40s. While losing the pole to Patrick, Gordon was both gracious and recognized the importance of the feat. "It's great for our sport" he said about the woman who forced Gordon to start 2nd in the race.
But what happens on that first lap at Daytona? If Danica Patrick falls back into the pack and doesn't do anything special, then an opportunity for even more attention for NASCAR will be lost. And I don't think that is lost on Jeff Gordon, either.
So here's the easy bet. I think Gordon will allow Patrick to lead the first lap of the race. It doesn't hurt that Patrick also drives a Chevrolet, and that Patrick drives for Stewart-Haas Racing, which is basically a sister operation of Gordon's owner, Hendrick Motorsports.
Now, it's not a sure thing that Patrick will parlay the top starting spot into the front position at the end of the first 2.5 mile
lap. But if she does, even more history will be made, as no woman has ever led a lap at Daytona.
Patrick has the advantage of choosing whether to start on the inside or outside of Row 1. But with this new NASCAR Gen 6 car, and the oddities that are NASCAR racing, it is not a sure thing that she'll beat Jeff Gordon to the line. He could challenge Patrick for the the lead, and the bonus point that comes with leading a lap in a NASCAR race. But I think Gordon will back off, settle behind Patrick, and wait for his chance to lead a lap -- assuming he hasn't already made
a deal with Patrick to swap Position #1 back and forth, so each of them can earn the first points of the NASCAR season.
Could NASCAR get involved in Patrick's historic first lap? I know that most conspiracy theories in NASCAR start and end with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. But it would be easy for NASCAR to nudge Patrick over the line first. In the pre-race drivers meeting, NASCAR just has to say "Let's have a clean lap. No aggressive passing. Keep your bumpers clean. Allow the leaders to create a line to follow."
"And allow Danica to lead the first lap."
There, it is simple. History made. Barrier broken. TV ratings climb.