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Danica Patrick is now centerstage at Daytona -- prepped for her very first NASCAR Sprint Cup run, in Thursday's 150s

  Danica Patrick waiting for Daytona 500 practice (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Hot flash! Guess who was third-best in Wednesday practice on the list of Daytona 500 drivers with the best 10 consecutive lap average?
   If you said Danica Patrick, pick a prize.

   Only Greg Biffle and Trevor Bayne, among Ford's finest here, averaged a string of back-to-back laps faster than the Chevy Cup rookie, clocked consistently at 196.233 mph.
   What that means for Thursday's twin 150-milers isn't clear, particularly given the big crashes likely, if Saturday's Shootout is any indication.
   The Twins are set to kick off at 2 p.m. ET, with Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the front row for the first 60-lapper, Greg Biffle and Casey Mears on the front row for the second.
   Since last year's top-35 team owners have spots locked for the 500 all ready (including Patrick, whose car owner made a deal to get one of those spots), the 150s will generally only determine spots on the grid.
   Sprint Cup Drivers got three full hours of practice time Wednesday afternoon for Thursday's 150s…but some of the sport's biggest stars sat things out, rather than risk tearing up their cars.
   As crazy as the driving was in Saturday night's Shootout, one would think these guys would be taking advantage of every possible lap on the track, but they seemed more concerned about not taking any more risks than absolutely necessary.
   And Kasey Kahne, in the opening minutes of the first practice, showed such a move might well have been wise – he got tagged in the rear in traffic by Juan Pablo Montoya and tore up his car. That's the fifth Rick Hendrick car torn up this SpeedWeeks, which is looking to be a very expensive proposition for car owners.
  Plus, Jimmie Johnson showed another or this SpeedWeeks' issues during practice -- his car was blowing a lot of water. Overheating has been a worry, with NASCAR's new limits on engine water temperatures, through pressure relief valves.

   Why sit out practice? This is an example of what drivers worried about. Kasey Kahne, now going to another backup (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Brad Keselowski also went for a wild ride in practice but saved the car. Keselowski had two cars torn up last week.
   Matt Kenseth – in a Jack Roush Ford, which looks like the hot brand here – was fastest overall, at 200.853 mph (drafting). In fact the four fastest so far were in Fords: Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse and Marcos Ambrose the other three, all over 200.
   Fastest Toyotas – Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer, both running this season for Michael Waltrip.
   Fastest Chevrolets – Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard, both running for Richard Childress.
   Fastest Dodges – Keselowski and teammate AJ Allmendinger, but both far, far down the speed list, not even in the top-30. Both men are in their third Daytona cars.
   So Cue Danica Patrick, who will running in her very first Cup race in Thursday's first 150.
   Patrick has been fawned over by virtually every media at SpeedWeeks, and ESPN execs -- who will be able to feature her full-time this season, her first full-time on the ESPN-Nationwide tour – say she provides a strong boost in those demographics so prized.
   Well, just kind of numbers does Patrick really provide? What demographic segements of the TV audience does she appeal to?
   When pressed for specifics about Danica, ESPN deferred to NASCAR.
   And NASCAR's Scott Warfield provided these insights:
   "While we do not predict future ratings performance for our series, we can look back on the performance of races in which she has participated in previous seasons.
    "It's important to note that a myriad of factors can impact television ratings, so drawing a one-to-one correlation between ratings and Danica Patrick's participation may ignore other factors that could be important.

   The man with the fastest iron in Daytona: Ford's Carl Edwards (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   "However, some highlights from NASCAR events in which she has raced:
    -- "Danica Patrick’s first NASCAR race was the NASCAR Nationwide Series 2010 Drive for COPD 300 at Daytona. According to The Nielsen Company, the rating for that event increased +33% over the same event in 2009. The race achieved a 3.2 rating in 2010 on ESPN2 vs. a 2.4 in 2009. 
    --  "Overall, 11 of the 13 NNS events in which Danica raced in 2010 (her first season in NASCAR) experienced increased viewership over 2009. Average viewership for the 13 events in which Danica raced was up +9% over 2009. (Source: The Nielsen Company.)
   --   "In 2011, six of the 12 events in which she competed posted equal or increased viewership compared to 2010. (Source: The Nielsen Company.)
   "Danica Patrick's ranking in merchandise sales:
     --  "In 2011, racing part-time in only the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Danica Patrick was in the top 15 best-selling drivers in terms of merchandise sold at the NASCAR.com Superstore. (Source: NASCAR.com Superstore.)
     --  "In 2012 (through February 4th), Patrick is already in the top 10 in merchandise sales at the NASCAR.com Superstore. (Source: NASCAR.com Superstore.)
    "NASCAR Fan sentiment toward Danica Patrick: Avid NASCAR fans like Danica Patrick and a very large portion hope she does well this season. Results from a survey done in August 2011 among the NASCAR Fan Council immediately after she announced her full-time entry in NASCAR:
    -- "87% of avid fans agreed with the statement ' hope Danica Patrick does well.'
    --  "Nearly 80% of avid fans agreed that 'Danica Patrick is good for NASCAR.'
    "General appeal of Danica Patrick among the U.S. population as a whole:
   -- "Danica Patrick is in the top-five in awareness of NASCAR drivers among the U.S. population as a whole. (Source: Nielsen N-Score; data as of January 2012)."



Now this looks the advance team for someone very important (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Do you think that Danica

Do you think that Danica Patrick will win her Gatorade Duel Race on Thursday?

i'm thinking greg zipadelli's

i'm thinking greg zipadelli's strategy is to have her run up front, figuring that's the safest place to be (Jeff Gordon's Saturday night antics notwithstanding lol). zippy says she either needs to be tough or get tough.
winning? well, maybe the answer is 'trevor bayne.'

If she can qualify bring her

If she can qualify bring her on! I too think she would be great fun to watch. I like Danica she is pretty cool.^^^^^^You are toooo funny Rowdy #18 I want to see her stomping around pit road picking fights too. Maybe with Kasey Kahne he is about her size .hahahahah!!!!!

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