Patrick will "make history" says Earnhardt Jr

Sun Feb 24, 2013 7:40pm EST
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By Simon Evans

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - NASCAR favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr predicted Danica Patrick will "make a lot of history" in the sport after she finished eighth on Sunday in just her second start in the Daytona 500.

Patrick, the first woman to start the race on pole, went into the final lap in third place but fell back five places as Jimmie Johnson held on for victory ahead of Earnhardt Jr.

Patrick, who crashed out early in her debut last year, had the highest finish ever by a woman, bettering Janet Guthrie's 11th place from 1980. She also became the first woman to lead the race.

"She's going to make a lot of history all year long," said Earnhardt, who finished second for the third time in four years.

"It's going to be a lot of fun to watch her progress. Every time I've seen her in a pretty hectic situation, she always really remained calm."

A marketing dream for the sport and her sponsors, the 30-year-old Patrick is proving wrong her doubters, who wondered if she had the ability to deal with the challenges of stock car racing's premier event.

She never fell below 12th in the 200-lap race.

Earnhardt Jr, who has a huge fan base and whose father is one of NASCAR's all-time greats, who died from a crash in the 2001 Daytona 500, says he sees the necessary qualities in Patrick's driving.   Continued...

NASCAR driver Danica Patrick greets fans before the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 race at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Pierre Ducharme