Daytona, Fla. — Danica Patrick asked herself the same question everyone else is asking.Can she win?“Can I win? Yeah. Absolutely,” she said Friday in the media center at Daytona International Speedway, where she will start Sunday’s Daytona 500 as the pole-sitter.She smiled and said, “I believe the statistic is a 17-percent chance, starting from the pole. That is what somebody told me.”Patrick said Friday she will take the outside lane to start the race and that she’ll skip today’s practice – ensuring nothing can happen now to knock her off the pole. An engine change or practice damage requiring a backup car would have changed everything.“She’s got the talent, and she’s got the ability,” veteran crew chief Tony Gibson said. “And she’s already proven in the Nationwide Series, from what I’ve seen, on the speedway stuff, she definitely gets the respect, and people know she’s fast. She can draft. She knows how the air works. She gets a lot of that from IndyCar.“So I have 100 percent confidence that she can win the Daytona 500.”Earnhardt expectationDale Earnhardt Jr. is starting 19th on Sunday, the lowest he has ever started at the Daytona 500. But he is good at the 500 — he won it nine years ago and has been the runner-up in two of the previous three.So what he wants more than anything right now, except a win on Sunday, is to use his experience at the track to keep momentum from what he thought was a good season last year, when he broke a 143-race winless streak by winning at Michigan.“We've been able to improve steadily over the last couple years,” he said. “I hope that's able to continue. I hope we haven't realized our true potential. Maybe this year, if we can step it up another notch, we'd be right there where we've been striving to be the last couple years.”Earnhardt said he has all the resources he needs, being in the Hendrick Motorsports garage.“No matter how close it is or far off it is, it's hard to really put your finger on exactly what you're missing, especially when you work with a company like I do that's got all the parts, pieces, all the personnel, does such a good job delivering the physical race car to you,” Earnhardt said.Pressure performerTravis Pastrana has a full-time Nationwide Series ride with the No. 60 for Roush Fenway. It’s a big investment in faith in the “extreme sports” star, who made nine Nationwide starts last year.But it already appears to be paying off. He qualified fourth for today’s race.“Without a doubt,” Pastrana said, asked if he feels pressure to succeed. “We have such a great race program right now at Roush Fenway Racing and so much expectation from the action sports community. To come out here and be sitting well right now is awesome.”Trevor Bayne won the pole, his first at Daytona International Speedway and sixth in Nationwide.From far backOne year after winning the pole for the Daytona 500, Carl Edwards is starting 36th. It’s the lowest he’s started at the 500. A crash in his duel on Thursday left him to qualify on speed, which he had no problem doing, but it left him on the 18th row.But Edwards knows how to climb the field. He started 27th as a rookie in 2005 and finished 12th. He started 27th in 2010 and finished ninth and 22nd in 2011 and finished second.BrieflyKyle Busch started another of his trademark triple-header weekends. He is entered in the truck, Nationwide and Cup races.Today’s Nationwide race has additional star power. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart are also entered.
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407 Twitter: @calexmendez