The University of Maine student newspaper since 1875
Tuesday, Sept. 29, 1:12 p.m.

Patrick a huge boost for NASCAR’s popularity

Dominated by men since its inception, NASCAR has a new, female rival, who is stealing the spotlight from motorsport champions and figureheads. Not only is she different from the rest, she’s good.

Danica Patrick sat on the pole for the 55th running of the Great American Race, a feat that has never been matched by another woman in the sport. Along with her pole award, she led laps and finished eighth, being the first woman in NASCAR ever to do so.

Throughout the weekend, Patrick’s every move received media coverage, and she made a splash in the media with her new following. Hundreds of little girls from all over the U.S. came to Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., to watch their new hero race against greats, including Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., for the chance to be crowned champion of the Daytona 500.

Patrick’s eighth-place finish places her as highest woman finisher in NASCAR history. A former open-wheel IndyCar racer, she used her talents at Daytona to prove she has what it takes to race with the big boys.

With a car owned by Stewart-Haas Racing and engines provided by Hendrick Motorsports, Patrick has top-of-the-line equipment backing her first full season on the NASCAR circuit.

During the 500, she never dropped below 11th place in a field of 43 cars and was in third as she was going into the final turns on the last lap. Veterans Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin teamed up in turns three and four, getting some clean air and a big run on the bottom groove, sending Patrick to the back of the pack of leading cars. With only one-eighth of a mile left in the race, Patrick was unable to recover and slipped back to eighth place, her finishing position.

Having a successful woman in NASCAR means so much for the sport. Patrick’s efforts in NASCAR during speed weeks in Daytona made national headlines, and she was a constant story on ESPN throughout the past week. Not only is the culture of NASCAR changed, now that a woman is racing in their male-dominated series, what Patrick is accomplishing gives hopes to underdogs and women in every sport to follow their dreams.

Sitting at seventh place in the series standings after the first race of the year, Patrick is off to a great start to the 2013 season. With her support from Stewart-Haas racing, Hendrick Motorsports and her thousands of new fans, she’s on the right track to make a run at being the first woman NASCAR champion in history.