Danica Patrick’s team optimistic it can win this weekend at Daytona

Chris Graythen

Can Patrick win her first NASCAR race this weekend at Daytona? Her crew chief believes it’s a realistic possibility.

As NASCAR ramps up for its annual Fourth of July weekend festivities at Daytona International Speedway, all eyes will be on Danica Patrick to see if she can replicate what she did in the Daytona 500.

It was in February where Patrick cemented her place in the NASCAR record book.

In Daytona 500 qualifying she became the first woman to secure the pole-position in a Sprint Cup Series event. She backed that effort by becoming the first woman to ever lead a lap in NASCAR's marquee race and was running third on the final lap before sliding back to finish eighth.

All of which explains why Patrick's crew chief Tony Gibson is confident heading into Saturday's Coke Zero 400.

"I think it's obviously a track that we feel like we can win at," Gibson said Tuesday.

In a season devoid of many highlights, Patrick's history making performance at Daytona is by far the biggest. She was competitive throughout the 500-mile race and with a little more experience could have easily been celebrating her first NASCAR victory.

Gibson isn't the only member of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing team enthused about returning to the 2.5-mile oval.

"You can feel the excitement in the shop," Gibson said. "The guys are just rubbing and detailing and they're pumped up and they're excited.

"The vibe is different. When we get ready to go here, everybody gets jacked up, and we know we can go here and we can do really well."

Patrick hasn't finished in the top 10 since Daytona and her rookie season has featured more lows than highs. In 17 starts her average finish is 25.6 and Daytona is the only race where she has started better than 23rd.

But since crossing over to NASCAR four years ago, Patrick has proven most adept at Daytona and its sister track, Talladega Superspeedway. Gibson believes the twin restrictor-plate tracks are in Patrick's "wheelhouse" because of the high speeds and tight pack racing, which she is used to from her time spent in IndyCar.

As a reminder of what they can accomplish at Daytona, Gibson has brought out the trophy the team received for winning the pole.

"We want to go down there and we want to make a statement," Gibson said. "We're going back there with the same mindset, to try to be the fastest car in qualifying and try to close the deal at the end of this thing."

Patrick, however, will not be running the same car she competed with in February. That machine was destroyed in a wreck at Talladega in April. Instead she will drive the car that was her Daytona 500 backup.

But despite the change, Patrick remains as optimistic as her crew chief and is looking forward to being back at Daytona.

"I think we will still be pretty fast," Patrick said this past weekend at Kentucky Speedway. "Will we qualify on the pole and run in the top-three or -five all day? I don't know, maybe. But the heat always changes a little bit but it's a different car, and it's going to be a different Hendrick engine. All that stuff just leads to a slightly different weekend.

"But I expect it to be somewhat similar at least from a good standpoint in my head."

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