Danica Patrick is engulfed in media as she stands near her car before the… (Jeff Siner / McClatchy-Tribune )
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The Danica Patrick Phenomenon isn’t hype.
First woman to win the pole position in the Daytona 500. First woman to lead a lap in the Daytona 500. First woman to finish in the top 10 in the Daytona 500 by taking eighth.
The critics and the cynics can go home now and sulk.
She drove hard and smart, avoiding the mangled mess that took out great drivers -- from her team owner Tony Stewart to Carl Edwards -- to survive the 500-mile grind of endurance.
Her shot at winning got lost in the aerodynamic shuffle of the last two laps when she fell from third to eighth as cars scrambled to catch leader Jimmie Johnson.
But still, what a ride.
“Nothing super-duper eventful,” she said.
Oh, it was.
That was the competitor talking -- disappointed that she didn’t get any help in the final scramble, especially when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ditched her as a running mate to try to make a run at Johnson.
“She’s going to make a lot of history all year long,” Earnhardt said.
She was cool and calm all week, despite the media crush. As the world swarmed in on her, Danica Patrick simply shrugged and took it all in.
Been there, done that.
She has done the fishbowl thing since her days in open-wheel racing, competing in the Indianapolis 500 and proving she belonged there, too.
So she was ready to mess with the 42 guys on the track if need be.
The biggest wreck of the day involving Patrick included actor James Franco, definitely not a Wizard of Oz when it comes to NASCAR knowledge.
“Drivers and Danica, start your engines,” he said as the honorary starter, perhaps trying to be too creative but ignoring the simple fact that Patrick was a driver, too.
She proved that Sunday afternoon.
Danica Patrick isn’t along to hitch a ride with history.
She’s obviously here to make it.
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