Can Danica Patrick win the Daytona 500?

Jared C. Tilton

Danica Patrick is attempting to become the first female to ever win the Daytona 500 and her chances to do so are better than you probably think.

Now that Danica Patrick has made history by becoming the first woman to win the Daytona 500 pole, it's inevitable that talk has turned to whether Patrick can do the seemingly unthinkable and win "The Great American Race."

While her doing so might seem a bit incredulous, there are some reasons to believe Patrick can do the near-impossible and win Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

The No. 1 factor working in Patrick's favor is that Daytona is a track where the unexpected frequently occurs. And because of its unpredictable nature the 500 has produced a long list of winners that few -- if any -- could have seen coming beforehand.

For example, would a Patrick win be as surprising as Derrike Cope's triumph in the 1990 edition of the 500? Cope was a journeyman driver who somehow found himself running second on the final lap when misfortune befell Dale Earnhardt exiting Turn 2, Cope pounced and went on to snag the checkered flag.

Or there is the case of Michael Waltrip, who rolled into Daytona in 2001 never having won a Cup race in 462 career starts. Yet, not only did Waltrip pull the upset, he went to Victory Lane again two years later.

Maybe the best comparison to how Patrick enters this year's 500 probably can be made to the unlikeliest Daytona 500 winner of them all, Trevor Bayne.

When Bayne won in 2011, he was a 20 year old rookie making just his second Cup start and used a combination of talent and a very fast car to put himself in position to capitalize in a race where attrition played a major role.

Like Bayne, Patrick has talent and perhaps most importantly, she too has a fast car underneath her. And as we have seen during Speedweeks, wrecks have been a common occurrence and Sunday's race is likely going to come down to who will be around at the finish - and that isn't always the best driver(s).

Patrick has a couple of hurdles working against her in the 500; the same hurdles that have plagued her throughout her foray into NASCAR.

While Patrick has quickly adapted to the nuances of restrictor-plate racing, she has struggled making it to the finish line. Too often Patrick has seen good finishes go by the wayside due to a propensity for wrecking - sometimes her fault, sometimes not.

Last year in the February Nationwide Series event, Patrick qualified on the pole and led the first couple of laps. But a nudge from her JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt sent her into the wall and she ended up 38th in the final rundown.

It was a similar story during the July Nationwide race at Daytona.

This time around Patrick started third and it appeared her first NASCAR victory was in sight, as she took the lead five times for a total of 13 laps.

But once again, a promising run was for naught as she was swept up into a five-car wreck with less than 20 laps remaining. She finished 31st.

And the biggest obstacle Patrick has to overcome is the fact that she hasn't proven much in her limited time behind the wheel of a Cup car.

In 10 races Patrick's best finish is 17th and just once has she finished on the same lap as the leaders.

Finding trouble and a lack of competitiveness doesn't bode well for her Daytona chances.

Then again, Patrick has shown throughout her career that just about anything is attainable with her innate ability to rise up when the spotlight is the most intense.

Witness, what she did in her first start in the Indianapolis 500 where she became the first female to lead a lap and her fourth-place finish was the highest ever by a woman.

But while anything is possible at Daytona, a victory in NASCAR's marquee race might be asking too much of Patrick.

More realistically, she should focus on avoiding trouble, logging as many laps as possible and if all goes right, hopefully end the 500 with finish somewhere around 15th.

If this happens, Patrick will leave Daytona with a win -- in the figurative sense.

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