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What have we learned?

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Lee Spencer, FOX Sports
Sat Feb 23, 5:11 PM UTC

So we’ve been to Daytona International Speedway for the three days of testing back in January. We’ve been back down here since last week. Here it is Saturday and we are on the eve of the Daytona 500.

Meet the 43 drivers in the Daytona 500

One of the things I noticed back in January was that even then, Danica Patrick had a very fast race car. When I talked to both Tony Stewart and Danica, they both expressed confidence that the car would be even better when they came back here in February.

When qualifying practice began, she was right there at the top again. In fact, she was fastest overall in the final practice. I wondered then if she could back it up come qualifying last Sunday because it would be phenomenal for her, her team, her organization and the sport of NASCAR as a whole if she could. Well, as everyone knows, she did and the rest is literally history.

It was a history-making effort by everyone involved, and I truly expect to see her lead laps on Sunday. Some want to point out that she was a non-factor in her Duel race on Thursday. That point is irrelevant.

The risk/reward factor was just too great, because if she would have torn up that car on Thursday and been forced into a backup car, she would have had to start from the rear of the field for the Daytona 500.

As I have said in numerous interviews this week, when she fires up that race car Sunday, that car doesn’t know who the driver is. It’s the same scenario for her and the 42 others in the field taking the green. What she did last Sunday beating out 42 guys to make history is nothing but impressive.

Do I think she has a legitimate shot of winning the Daytona 500? In my heart of hearts I do. What Indianapolis was to Danica in the IndyCar series, the same can be said now of Daytona in her stock car career. The confidence she has when she comes to Daytona is powerful.

Just like the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 is on the big stage with lots of pressure and lots of excitement. She thrives on being in the spotlight, and I think she can get the job done.

I know there are some of you out there that are already tired of hearing about Danica. Just believe me when I tell you that if she runs well Sunday and happens to win our sport's version of the Super Bowl, it will take our sport to another level. It literally will change the face of this sport and how our sport is covered.

This really reminds me of 1992, when Jeff Gordon was first coming on the scene of NASCAR. Jeff was a young up-and-coming driver that everyone said was the next big thing.

He was competing against a lot of older drivers. Jeff Gordon was the face of the youth movement and growth our sport saw back then. Jeff single-handedly brought a core of young fans to our sport at a time when we needed to reinvent ourselves.

I see that same scenario today with Danica. Tony Gibson, who is Danica’s crew chief, said he has never seen so many young girls in our sport coming over trying to get a peek at Danica. She is bringing new fans into our sport. So that’s why Sunday is a monumental moment in our sport.

Everyone should be hoping she has a great race on Sunday because not only will our fans know about it, but the whole world will know about it. That’s the kind of reach Danica's accomplishment last Sunday has developed.

Has it been over-hyped? You can never over-hype the winner of the pole position for our entire sport's biggest event. It doesn’t matter if it’s Danica, Jeff, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or anyone else. Whoever wins the pole position for the Daytona 500, now that’s a big deal.

Obviously the second-biggest story down here has been this new car. Some believe it is the great equalizer, as everyone is searching and trying to figure out what it likes and doesn’t like. Obviously some teams, like the No. 29 of Kevin Harvick, who already has two wins down here, have it figured out a little better than others.

Kyle Busch looks like he has it figured out. Both Jeff Gordon and Kyle’s new teammate, Matt Kenseth, have very fast race cars. Jeff probably was going to win his Duel race, but he had a speeding penalty on pit road.

I can’t say that I agree with the theory that the new car has equalized it for everyone. I have always maintained that the folks with the most resources always have the edge. They have the best equipment, the best people and they have the sharpest engineers. So their learning curve on something like a brand-new car will be much shorter than those that don’t have the same resources at their fingertips.

That’s another positive Danica has going for her. Not only does she have teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman to learn from, but with the Stewart-Haas Racing business relationship with Hendrick Motorsports, she can learn from Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kasey Kahne. Those are some powerful resources.

One of the things that has really impressed me these last two years is that Danica is not afraid to ask questions. She’s also like a sponge when it comes to absorbing information. The thing I really like is once she absorbs it, she applies it. I think she’ll be able to demonstrate that on Sunday.

I think one area that all the drivers are dealing with in this new aero package on this new car is the air coming off the fender flairs. In the past, the car has been pretty flat down the sides from front to rear.

I think these new fender flairs are creating turbulence around the car. It makes it harder to get up there and bump-draft someone. It is also making it easier to spin this thing out.

This new design also has brought the side-draft back into play. When you get up there on the outside of a car, it slows that car down and propels you forward. So like everything that is brand new, it continues to be a learning process.

One thing I am really anxious to see is how all these cars handle with 43 of them out there at one time. Remember that in the Sprint Unlimited race last Saturday night, we only had 19 cars and then quickly seven of them were wrecked out. Thursday in the Duel races, there were 22 cars out there at one time.

Sunday on FOX we all get to see how 43 of them will handle it. When Danica brings them off Turn 4 to the green flag, that literally will be the first time these 43 cars have been on the track together. That’s going to be a big difference aerodynamically than what these teams have faced up to this point.

From the NASCAR on FOX side, we also have stepped up our game and are bringing you new things Sunday. My favorite far and away is the new gyro-cam. That camera really gives the viewer the sense of what it’s like diving into the corner into the high banks.

We’ve never had this before, and I think it will really add to giving the viewer a sense of what these drivers go through at each track. We also have a new Gen-6 cam that will be going down the straightaway to give us some fantastic shots. We’ve got the best team and I think our NASCAR on FOX team is in the best shape it’s ever been in.

There’s only one more practice today for the Cup gang and then the cars are polished up and covered up until Sunday afternoon.

What are Danica’s chances of winning the 2013 Daytona 500? I say they are 50/50. Who picked Trevor Bayne to win this race two years ago? Those two have one thing in common.

Two years ago, Trevor had a really fast race car. The same has been proven by Danica so far. A fast race car makes it a lot easier to win this race Sunday. Danica has a fast car, so let’s see what she does with it. I think she’ll put it in Victory Circle.

Courtesy of FOXSports.com

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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