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Danica not running laps around Daytona field just yet

On Sunday, Danica Patrick didn’t just turn a lap of 196.434 mph, she turned heads. And maybe, just maybe, she turned the tide in her favor.

Perhaps the haters are more apt to become believers. And complete NASCAR acceptance is just around the next corner. Uh, possibly. But not quite, not yet. In fact, let’s hit the brakes.

Look, the Scottsdale resident didn’t just happen to make history as the first woman to capture pole position for the Daytona 500 (or any race in NASCAR’s top series). No, she earned it, every bit of it. Let’s face it, drivers don’t like to lose — period. And they especially don’t like to lose to Danica (not because of her gender, but primarily due to the perception that she’s more hype/marketing than skill/substance in earning a top ride).

And it’s not that capturing pole position isn’t an accomplishment. It is indeed. And it’s already paid off with exposure and coverage – big time. No doubt, it will result in plenty of casual or non-fans making the Daytona 500 appointment viewing. And that alone is invaluable to everyone in the sport. #Ding.

“That’s a huge accomplishment,” said Tony Stewart, Danica’s team owner. “It’s not like it’s been 15 or 20 years she’s been trying to do this. It’s her second trip to Daytona here in a Cup car. She’s made history in the sport. That’s stuff that we’re proud of being a part of with her. It’s something she should have a huge amount of pride in.” #DoubleDing.

But here’s what winning the pole is not — it’s not racing. Just like the combine isn’t NFL football and home run derby isn’t baseball, qualifying isn’t racing. Heck, Danica herself said that qualifying, especially at Daytona, is 90 percent car and 10 percent driver.

So, the question remains — can she race? In other sports, we would pose the question — can they play? Here, we know that Danica can drive and qualify. But, can she compete in a field of fellow NASCAR cup drivers?

The first woman to lead laps in the Indianapolis 500 and the only woman to win an IndyCar race doesn’t want to be the NASCAR equivalent of the best golfer — on the driving range.