Two down and one to go.
Danica Patrick's introduction to NASCAR stock car racing at Daytona this week has encompassed two of the three things associated with that sport.
The three things are (not necessarily in this order): crashing, starting from pole and winning a race.
Thursday, she survived the first initiation - crashing nearly head-on into a wall at Daytona International Speedway while going more than 180 miles an hour.
Today - Friday - she shocked the NASCAR fraternity by winning the pole for Saturday's Nationwide Series race (and veteran Elliott Sadler opined that she was the most improved driver in NASCAR in the last three years).
Tomorrow or Sunday, she could find herself in Victory Lane after either the Nationwide race or the big one, the Daytona 500.
She's got two of the three things out of the way already, so who's to say how long it will take her to win that first race?
Thursday, as luck would have it, the Daytona 500 driver everybody had their eyes on during the first of two qualifying races delivered the goods — big time.
The problem, however, is that what she delivered wasn’t what anybody was expecting.
No, she didn’t win that first Duel at Daytona race, nor did she put on a particularly spectacular display of driving (although she was certainly competent in that area).
But boy, did she ever crash big.
Not her fault, of course. She was driving low on the track, in or around tenth place, minding her own business and less than a lap away from completing his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race when she was blindsided by a car driven by Aric Almirola and before anybody could say Holy Danica she was heading almost head-first into a retaining wall on the backstretch.
That she wasn’t hurt in the pileup is a miracle.
But she sure got everybody’s attention — and when I say everybody, I mean every body.
The crash was on all the major American TV newscasts Thursday night and pretty much everywhere on all the cable news networks.
It was almost as good as winning (which would also have received major attention, by the way) because that’s what sponsor GoDaddy and NASCAR are counting on.
The more eyeballs focused on Daytona, and NASCAR racing in general, the better.
Why? Here’s why.
According to The Nielsen Co., ratings for the 2010 Nationwide Series opener at Daytona were up 33 per cent with her in the race from the 2009 ratings.
Overall, 11 of the 13 Nationwide races Patrick ran in 2010 had better ratings than the 2009 events. Average viewership for her 13 events was up 9 per cent.
Patrick's merchandise sales last season ranked in the top 15 best-selling drivers at the NASCAR.com Superstore — and that was when she was a part-timer.
Through last week, Patrick already ranked in the top 10 in merchandise sales in 2012.
A survey last August of the NASCAR Fan Council showed that 80 per cent of those polled agreed with the statement, "Danica Patrick is good for NASCAR."
Nielsen N-Score data through January showed that Patrick ranks in the top five of most recognized NASCAR drivers among the U.S. population.
And the cover of the largest-circulation daily newspaper in the U.S. on Friday, USA Today, had a feature on — you guess it — Danica P.
"There's so much interest with Danica coming over to NASCAR (from IndyCar), I think it's going to really broaden our fan base," said Lesa France Kennedy, the CEO of NASCAR.
“When she shows up, it just has a different feel to it. She's a real dynamic individual to start with, and I think it'll be interesting to see her compete on the track. There's certainly a spotlight, without a doubt, but she seems to do well with that. She seems to do well under pressure."
You (or Lesa France) can say that again because it was a trial by fire for her Thursday. It was her first big crash in a stock car (and it really was a doozy) and she handled it calmly and with sophistication, finesse and aplomb.
And good humour: she finished her interview with pit reporter Dick Berggren thusly:
“Maybe the backup car’ll be faster.”
You can’t handle a near-disaster any better than that.
P.S. The Nationwide Series race will be telecast live on TSN2 Saturday starting at noon with the green flag expected at 1:15 p.m. The Daytona 500 pre-race show can be seen on Fox/TSN2 at noon Sunday with the green flag expected to fly at or about 1 p.m. Patrick will drop to the back of the pack for the start, as will several other drivers whose primary cars were wrecked during the qualifying races on Thursday.