Last updated: February 23. 2013 2:48PM -

Danica Patrick has been in high demand this week at Daytona International Speedway, especially after capturing the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Danica Patrick has been in high demand this week at Daytona International Speedway, especially after capturing the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The big boys brought their little girls to see NASCAR’s shining star.


Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson all took their daughters to meet Danica Patrick this week at Daytona International Speedway.


The ultimate backstage pass.


Patrick dropped to one knee, wrapped her right arm around Ella Gordon’s waist and posed for pictures as the 5-year-old flashed an endless grin in Victory Lane last week. Every day since, Patrick’s crew has handed out dozens and dozens of lugnuts to little girls clamoring for souvenirs. Annie Edwards wore GoDaddy green shoes for the special occasion. Evie Johnson recognizes only two cars, her Dad said — his and the green one.


“Carl was saying it’s good that she sees me in real life and in person because ‘To her, you are like some mythical creature that doesn’t exist,’ ” Patrick said. “Then after qualifying, Jimmie Johnson brought his little girl over. That’s three pretty big drivers who have little girls that wanted to meet me.”


Danicamania is in full bloom at Daytona — and with a brand new audience.


The first woman in history to earn the top starting spot in a race at NASCAR’s elite Sprint Cup Series, Patrick will bring new eyeballs to Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500. She’ll lure in casual sports fans, women who don’t know a muffler from a manifold, and little girls in awe of the glamorous driver.


It’s an ambassador role Patrick has played since her 2005 debut at the Indianapolis 500, where she became the first woman to lead laps in the biggest race in the world. But it’s so much more now.


“You can only lead by example and I don’t necessarily want my example to step outside the box and be a girl in a guy’s world. That’s not what I am trying to say,” Patrick said. “But if you have a talent for something, do not be afraid to follow through with it and not feel different. Do not feel like you are less qualified or less competent to be able to do the job because you are different. Ignore that and let it be about what your potential is.”


And right now, she believes her potential is to win “The Great American Race.”


“Can I win? Yeah. Absolutely,” Patrick said. “I feel comfortable in this kind of race situation. I feel comfortable in the draft. I feel comfortable that the speeds are not a problem. … I do believe experience would help, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a chance to win.”

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