Katie Copple, like the rest of us, could hear the bellowing cheers from the Talladega grandstands over the roar of the 43 cars down on the track Sunday when Danica Patrick took point.
You could hear the crowd screaming as the pack came out of Turn four. The excitement of the phenomenon that was happening was like that of Junior Nation when Earnhardt takes the lead except this time it was different. This time, it wasn’t the reigning Most Popular Driver up front. Instead, it was the lone female.
Starting seventh, her best starting spot since she won the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500, Danica Patrick raced her way to the front of the pack at Talladega. Holding off former champions such as Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski, Patrick led a total of six laps before succumbing to heating issues and finished 22nd.
Now, before Junior Nation disagrees, take a moment to think about the significance of Patrick’s feat. Her seventh place start was the best start for a female at Talladega in the Sprint Cup Series, overtaking Janet Guthrie’s 1977 start of ninth. Her finish of 22nd, also the best finish for a female at the famed Super Speedway.
Although most of her season has been a struggle, Patrick’s comfort lies at tracks like Daytona and Talladega, where the racing resembles her IndyCar days. Drivers, from veterans to rookies, wouldn’t hesitate to jump behind her in line as she works her way up front. These fast, high-banked tracks are where Patrick excels.
Danica Patrick is one of the most polarizing figures in the NASCAR garage but if Sunday’s reaction to her taking the lead is any indication of what is to come, NASCAR is in for a treat. Patrick’s popularity both on track and off brings in new faces and fans to the racetrack and the cheers that ensued when she took the lead was just a glimpse of that. Her six laps led were the first for a female at Talladega, just another statistic that she can add to her resume.
Needless to say, Junior Nation needs to watch out because Patrick's fan base is quickly catching up.