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Does Patrick have a shot at winning the Daytona 500?

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Rookies aren't supposed to win the Daytona 500, but Trevor Bayne proved that to be wrong last year. So why can't Danica Patrick be the next rookie to accomplish the same astounding feat?

She's got the talent to do it.

When a reporter asked Patrick if she could win the Daytona 500 during last Thursday's media day at Daytona International Speedway, she replied, "Do I think I can win the Daytona 500? Yeah."

Patrick is making her first career Sprint Cup Series start this week at Daytona. After placing 29th in time trials for the Daytona 500 over the weekend, Patrick will start 17th in a field of 25 cars in Thursday's first of the Gatorade Duel twin 150-mile qualifying races at Daytona.

No driver has won a Sprint Cup race in his or her first start since 1963 when Johnny Rutherford took the checkered flag for the second Daytona 500 qualifier race. The qualifiers counted as wins and points back then.

Bayne's win in the 2011 Daytona 500 came in just his second Sprint Cup start. He made his series debut in November 2010 at Texas, where he finished 17th.

Patrick is expected to be the third female to compete in the Daytona 500, joining Janet Guthrie and Shawna Robinson. Guthrie holds the record for best finish by a woman in the Daytona 500 -- 11th in 1980.

The Gatorade Duel will serve as Patrick's first chance to race with the big boys in NASCAR's premier series. She's competed in 25 Nationwide races so far, with three of them at Daytona.

Danica Patrick's team co-owner and reigning Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart thinks she certainly has a chance to win NASCAR's most prestigious race of the season.
One thing is for sure. The Duels will be Patrick's first day of school in Sprint Cup competition.

"Oh, wow, bigtime," Patrick said. "It's going to be about getting some rapport with some of the drivers I haven't raced with yet and getting a feel for how the pack running is going to go. I'm not completely unfamiliar with the pack running.

"The first year here [2010] was some pack, and even last year in the first race of the year in Nationwide, we did pack running. It was interesting to watch how you can be very organized in a single file line. You can pull away. It was interesting to see how the tandem will work in the end. So, trust me, I'll be studying that last pass at the end [of last Saturday's Budweiser Shootout on tape] with Tony [Stewart] and Kyle [Busch] to see when the perfect time is to do that."

During her 2005 rookie season in the IndyCar Series, Patrick started and finished fourth in the Indianapolis 500, setting records for her gender at the time. She also became the first women to lead laps during the Indy 500, running in front for a total of 19 laps. Patrick finished a career-best third in the 2009 Indy 500 to reset the gender record.

But that's the Indy 500...This is the Daytona 500.

"I think with the Indy 500 there's all the work that goes up to it," she said. "There's the team that you drive for, and there's the race car that you've worked on and made handle the way you want it to. I think there's a little more luck in certain ways with the Daytona 500 just because of the style of racing that it is."

"There is no bad driver that wins the Daytona 500, that's for sure," continued Patrick. "But things have to fall your way, and you've got to stay out of trouble that might not have even been your making, so I just think there is a little more of a luck side involved with it, and you can't account for that."

Regardless of her performance in the qualifiers, Patrick is guaranteed a starting position in the Daytona 500. Thanks to Tommy Baldwin Racing's recent alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing, Patrick's No.10 team is now among the top-35 in last year's owner points. TBR's No.36 entry finished 33rd in points. The 36 transferred over to the 10.

Patrick's team co-owner and reigning Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart thinks she certainly has a chance to win NASCAR's most prestigious race of the season.

"Did anybody think Trevor Bayne could win the race last year," Stewart questioned. "Anything can happen here; it is anybody's ball game. She did a really good job in July last year in the Nationwide race when I ran with her. I was really impressed at how smooth she was and how good a job she did in the two-car deal. Talent, there is no doubt in my mind. She has the talent to do it."

Stewart has yet to win the Daytona 500 in 13 attempts.

Patrick's team boss in Nationwide, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the Daytona 500 in 2004, revealed who he would rather like to see win this race -- him or her.

"Me! She don't drive for me in the 500, so it wouldn't matter to me if she won it," Earnhardt Jr. said. "If I win it, it would be a big deal for me. As far as what everybody else thinks, everybody is going to have a different opinion about that."

If Patrick were to win the Daytona 500, it would indeed be the biggest Cinderella story in NASCAR's history, more so than Bayne's triumph in this race one year ago.

Let's see if the glass slipper fits on her this Sunday.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

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