Danica has pole, but Dale Jr. has love and respect of Daytona 500 fans

Dale Earnhardt Jr. in garage after practice Wednesday at Daytona Intenaional Speedway/ Headline SurferDanica Patrick at practice Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway / Headline SurferPhoto by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR / Headlne Surfer /
At left, Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet, stands in the garage Wednesday during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR / Headline Surfer /
Above Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, sits in her car in the garage during practice.  Patrick won the pole for Sunday's Daytona 500.

DAYTONA BEACH -- Danica Patrick is grabbing the headlines from coast to coast by virtue of being the first female drive to grab a pole in a NASCAR race -- Sunday's Daytona 500, no less.

But make no mistake about it: When the green flag drops on the Great American Race, the fans will be roaring the loudest for none other than Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

While Danica has made a name for herself as the pin-up model in the racy Go Daddy commercials, Earnhardt has made a name for himself not only because of his famous father who lost his life on the fourth and final turn at Daytona in 2001, but because Junior won the Daytona 500 in his own right three years after his father's death.

It was less than six months after the elder Eanhardt lost his life at Daytona that the fans' love affair with Dale Jr. was consumated with his victory under the lights in the then-Pepsi 400 July 4th weekend race. He led 115 of 160 laps. On the last restart, Earnhardt went from fourth to first in the span of two laps, with Michael Waltrip holding off the field as "Little E" took the checkered flag. 

Ironically, it was in the earlier Daytona 500 where Waltrip won and Earnhardt, Jr. finished ahead of the late Earnhardt, sent into the outside wall after Aterling Marlin made contact the left side of his rear bumper. He was killed instantly by a basilar skull fracture.

Though Dale Earnhardt. Jr. hasn't won the Daytona 500 in nine years, his loyal fans believe he'll be a player come Sunday. Even after he suffered an engine failure during first practice on Wednesday, forcing him to start from the rear of the field in the first Duel Qualifying Race to determine the starting lineup for the Daytona 500.

"You can go from back to front in a few laps at Daytona and vise versa," wrote Wayne Draper of Fenwick, Mich., on Eanhardt's Facebook fan page.

Danica Patrick at Daytona International Speedway / Headline SurferPhoto by Tom Pennington/NASCAR via Getty Images / Headline Sufer /
Danica Patrick practices Wednesday on the track at Daytona International Speedway.

Still Danica Patrick has the attention of the racing fans, even those who support Earnhardt. Kyler Gibson of Locustgrove, Ohio, wrote on "Fans of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., another Facebook page: dale jr all the way but all the danica patrick hateres should try to get on the track with her im pretty sure she would blow you away.

Previous 2013 Speedweeks Coverage:

Kevin Harvick wins Sprint Unlimited under the lights at Daytona International Speedway
John Wes Townley wins 50th annual Lucas Oil 200 Arca race at Daytona International Speedway
Juan Pablo Montoya wheels 01 Chip Ganassi Racing BMW/Riley to victory in Rolex 24 at Daytona

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Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet newspaper serving the Daytona Beach-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com, launched April 7, 2008, as Florida's first around-the-clock online newspaper. Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most experienced reporters with scores of regional, state & national journalism-industry awards for nearly 100 breaking news & investigative reporting stories in Florida, New York, Massachusetts & Connecticut.
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