By any measure, Danica Patrick had a wildly successful Daytona 500. Not only did she become the first female to lead a lap in the "Great American Race," she also left with an eighth-place finish and was in contention to win until the final lap.
However, success in the Daytona 500 doesn't guarantee that Patrick will do well the rest of the year, as she embarks on her first full season of racing in the Sprint Cup Series.
Because of the emphasis on drafting and running in a large pack, racing at Daytona International Speedway is comparable to only one other track on the schedule — Talladega Super Speedway. The majority of tracks Patrick will find herself competing on this year will be of the intermediate variety, where aerodynamics and track position mean more than finding a partner to push you to the front.
On the 1.5- and 2-mile ovals, Patrick has struggled to adapt during her brief foray into NASCAR's top series. Last year in races at Charlotte, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas and Texas — all 1.5-mile tracks — Patrick struggled noticeably. Only once did she finish on the lead lap, and her best result was a 24th-place run at Texas.
However, all is not lost for Patrick in 2013.
There is still another event at Daytona, as well as two at Talladega. Considering how quickly she has figured out the nuances of plate racing, it wouldn't be at all shocking to see Patrick in contention for a victory in any or all of those races. Also, with her road-racing background, she could prove formidable at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
For some perspective on what to expect out of Patrick this season, it's best to use 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne as a benchmark.
In just his second Cup start, Bayne went to Victory Lane. Yet since then, success has been fleeting — Bayne has finished in the top 10 just twice in 33 subsequent starts.
Then again, maybe Daytona will prove to be Patrick's coming-out party, just as it was for other rookies before her. For now, embrace the magnitude of Patrick's accomplishment, but remember that an eighth-place finish ensures nothing going forward.
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