This is Danica's Weekend at Daytona

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by Ryan Isley

Friday night at Daytona International Speedway, all eyes may not be on Danica Patrick. But they should – because she is about to make history.

I know what you are thinking – is this April Fool’s Day? Ryan can’t actually be writing a positive piece about Danica Patrick, can he? Well, it is July 6. And yes – I am writing a positive piece on Danica.

I know that I have been critical of Danica in the past, saying she didn’t deserve the 10 races she will run in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year and then again when she wasted a good performance at Talladega by wrecking Sam Hornish, Jr. on the cool down lap.

But as I have always done, I praise when praise is deserved and I criticize when criticism is needed. This week, I think there is room for praise for the driver of the No.7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for JR Motorsports.

This is the weekend that I think Danica Patrick will finally break through and win her first race in NASCAR, as I believe she will take the checkered flag at the Subway Jalepeno 250 on Friday night in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Daytona.

While you may think I am completely nuts to think that a driver who has not finished higher than 4th in 27 NASCAR Nationwide races over the past two seasons would go out and win at one of the sport’s most famous tracks, hear me out on this.

First and foremost, we know Danica isn’t afraid of speed, which is always a good thing when going to a 2.5-mile superspeedway like Daytona. In fact, when speeds at Michigan International Speedway were record-braking a few weeks ago, Danica felt comfortable because the speeds they were reaching were still 30 to 40 miles per hour slower than what she experienced on the same track when she raced in IndyCar.

Before downplaying just how comfortable Danica is when it comes to high speeds, consider that in the last two seasons in the Nationwide Series, she has driven in 27 races. Of those races, 10 were on tracks of less than 1.5 miles, two were on road courses and 15 were on tracks that are 1.5 miles or longer. She has finished in the top-15 in 13 of those 27 races, with 11 of those 13 coming on tracks of 1.5 miles or longer.

In her three races at Daytona in the Nationwide Series, she has finishes of 14th and 10th from last year and then she finished 38th this season after a wreck ended her day early. While she didn’t have a great race in this season’s opener at Daytona, it cannot be forgotten that she sat on the pole for the race – meaning she had plenty of speed at the track.

Despite the drama after the race at Talladega, one thing remained – Danica ran a good race at NASCAR’s other 2.5-mile superspeedway, finishing 13th. She did a good job with the draft – when she could get help – and kept herself out of trouble, something that is not always easy at a track known for “the big one (wreck)”.

With that 13th-place finish at Talladega, Danica now has an average finish of 12.3 at the superspeedways if you eliminate that 38th-place finish from earlier this season at Daytona.

We also can’t forget that the last time NASCAR was in Daytona, she was running in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races and she was in demand by media at every turn that week. With just running in the Nationwide Series race this weekend, not only will there be less media, but she will have some down time instead of trying to get two cars ready to race for the weekend.

Speaking of less media, that is one of the most underrated reasons Danica may have a better shot at winning this week than in any other race she has driven. While she has had some degree of success at the track, the media attention won’t be as high as it was for her during the season’s first week. While there will always be media attention on Danica, it will be a little more subdued this week than it was back in February.

There are a few reasons for that:

One of the drivers who will demand more attention is Austin Dillon, who is coming off his first career victory at Kentucky last weekend and is now just four points behind Elliott Sadler for the Nationwide Series points lead.

And then there is the attention being paid to Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. over the past couple of weeks because of the announcement that he will be driving in the Sprint Cup Series full-time for Roush Fenway Racing next season, taking over for Matt Kenseth.

Add in Joey Logano’s four wins in the Nationwide Series since May 5, and there are a number of storylines this time around at Daytona.

All total, Danica’s success at longer tracks, only running in one race and of course having less attention being paid to her – bringing down the expectations just a bit – the pressure may finally be off and she can just drive.

And drive she will – all the way to victory lane.

Of course if this doesn’t happen, we cann all forget that this column ever existed, right? Where is my Men in Black memory eraser (just in case)??

Agree with Ryan? Or do you think he is insane? Leave a comment here or email Ryan at ryan@morethanafan.net