The Daytona 500: Cup Highs and Nationwide Lows

Jimmie Johnson celebrates after winning the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, at Daytona
Jimmie Johnson celebrates after winning the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

The Lady Up Front
"Boogity boogity boogity, let's just go racing!" screams Darrell Waltrip from the booth. That's when you know the green flag has flown and the Daytona 500 is under way.

Normally Waltrip says, "Boogity boogity boogity, let's go racing, boys!" But from here on out his trademark phrase will have to be slightly altered to include the sole lady racer, Danica Patrick.

I was thrilled when Danica qualified on pole for the 55th running of the Daytona 500. Yes, I wanted to be the first woman to do that, but women in racing is bigger than me. In the effort to draw in more female racers, crewmembers and race/safety officials to the sport, Danica's history-making pole was a huge contribution. Hopefully this contribution will help catapult more women into the sport.

People will critique it, saying that a pole on a super speedway (oval tracks that are over 2 miles long, such as Daytona or Indy) is irrelevant to the rest of the season, so Danica's accomplishment is less of a big deal. How wrong! The fact is that success is success and if people consider super speedway poles and wins to be "easy accomplishments," then they should be taken out of the schedule. Or people shouldn't make a big deal about other racers finding success on them. But clearly there is a prestige that goes along with setting pole and winning at Daytona, which can't be taken away from Danica.

The big picture is that Danica showed that women can run up front at the highest levels of racing. There were concerns as to whether she'd be able to stay up front, and she did; She was in the top-five for the majority of the race and even became the first woman to lead laps at the Daytona 500.

Despite finishing 8th, which is still quite respectable, many people in the racing industry agree Danica did a great job and set the stage for the future of women in racing. Lyn St. James, retired racer and first female to win the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award, stated in an interview with CNN, "[Danica] did everything right for the whole race...she learned a lot and earned respect from so many people that it was a terrific start of the season and a positive example for women everywhere."

To piggyback off of Lyn's comment, my favorite result from Danica winning the pole comes in something Ella Gordon, Jeff Gordon's daughter, finally realized. As The Atlantic pointed out, Danica's pole brought widespread publicity to the fact that women can be racecar drivers too, something that 4-year-old Ella hadn't previously understood to be a possibility. Now think of what all the other little girls who grow up around racing are thinking! We can do it too.

The Nationwide Series Crash
Kyle Larson's horrific crash (which he walked away from) left over a dozen spectators injured and sent to the hospital. It was a tragic accident that left innocent fans harmed, two of whom were in critical condition (they have since recovered).

Many comments I have personally received have been something along the lines of, "How could NASCAR let this happen?" While it is terrible that people were injured, I resent the fact that some critics have implied that NASCAR doesn't take safety seriously.

After Carl Edwards' 2009 crash at Talladega, NASCAR officials immediately took into consideration how similar crashes may take place at other racetracks. Prior to the 2010 season, new 22-foot catch fences were installed at Daytona International Speedway to attempt to prevent a similar crash and result.

There are obviously improvements that need to be made, but it is unfair to claim that safety is not a high priority in racing. From the drivers' perspectives, racing is one of the safest sports with the least number of injuries (compared to football, soccer, and hockey, for example). And as an ESPN article mentioned, the fans trusted the repairs made to the fence from Saturday night that they remained in their seats on Sunday.

People connected to the sport know how crucial safety is and how well officials, especially given the parameters in racing, address it. Did you see their televised faces on Saturday? Clearly distraught and concerned. I have no doubt that NASCAR officials and track owners are now considering changes that may need to be made in order to prevent another crash like this one from happening. So let's give those guys a little more credit.

Safety in racing has come a long way, even in the past couple years. While perfection is difficult to attain, NASCAR and its affiliates are certainly making strides towards getting to that point.