Danica Patrick's team boss Tony Stewart has warned that her historic pole position for the Daytona 500 should not increase expectations for Patrick's first full NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Stewart-Haas Chevrolet driver Patrick became the first female polesitter in Cup and Daytona 500 history when she held off four-time champion Jeff Gordon to secure the top spot on Sunday.
Patrick has been under intense media scrutiny throughout her top-level career. Stewart wants her to be able to complete her rookie season without undue pressure even though the Daytona pole will raise expectations.
"I think she's got potential. I think she's got a lot to look forward to. I think she's going to turn some heads this summer," said Stewart. "Whether it's consistent or whether it's one or two races at a time, none of us really know.
"But I believe in her. The team believes in her. Our organization believes in her. We're going to do everything we can to make her consistent and fast every week. The thing that I caution everybody over is that since she's got here, everybody has put her under such a strong microscope. Nobody said, 'Tony Stewart is going to be a top-15 car every week,' the first or second year. Nobody cared. But everybody is so focused on what she's going to do. You just strictly have to wait and see. It's still a rookie year for her."
Stewart acknowledged that qualifying at Daytona was not the greatest test of driver skill in the NASCAR season, but said this should not detract from Patrick's performance.
"We're using a fraction of the talent we all have at this level to go out and do two laps of qualifying. That percentage changes later in the week," said Stewart. "You can have the fastest car, but if you don't know where to be and when to be there, you can be at the back, or you can have a car that may not be the fastest and running up front because you know where to be to win.
"Naysayers are naysayers. They're people that are unhappy with their life and are trying to bring somebody else's life down to their level."
As she showed countless times during her IndyCar career, Patrick is at her best on high-speed ovals, where carrying speed through the lightest of touch on the wheel is key.
She was a serious contender in terms of outright speed at Daytona last year, but she struggled when running in the fender-banging middle of the pack.
This pole is no fluke, but the hard work has only just begun in terms of her delivering a breakthrough Cup result.