Where Danica Patrick finishes the Daytona 500 is ultimately more important than where she starts it.
Still, where she starts will be historic.
Patrick will be in the pole position when the race goes green on Sunday. Never before has a woman been in that top spot at the Daytona 500. It's reserved for the fastest qualifier. It's the front row, inside position. It's the catbird seat in the macho-man world of racing's biggest event.
It's a big deal.
But on a weekend when Patrick will be celebrated for what she has accomplished — and rightfully so — what she has done hasn't cured the sports world of sexism. Unfortunately, it is still alive and well.
NASCAR, for its part, seems to have embraced Patrick. Jeff Gordon, who will start next to Patrick in the front row, asked her to pose for a picture with his entire family after her historic qualifying run. Then he asked for one more favor, a shot of just Patrick and his 5-year-old daughter, Ella.
Those sorts of moments are refreshing.
“I've had the experience with mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, listening to them say the reason why they're here as a family today is because of me out there,” Patrick told reporters after qualifying at Daytona last weekend. “Whether it brings the girls out, the guys out, whatever it is, I don't care. That's nice to hear.”
That widespread appeal is another reason that NASCAR has accepted Patrick with open arms. Yes, her qualifying times speak the sport's universal language of speed. Sure, her car is owned by Tony Stewart, who has won a lot of races as a driver and carries a ton of street cred. But she has brought a bunch of attention to NASCAR.
For a sport that's faced falling attendance and flagging viewership, Patrick is a shot in the arm.
What she is doing is great for women in the sports world, too. She is a trailblazer. She is a role model.
Thank goodness for that because women in sports can use all the help they can get.
Just a few weeks ago, Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins was ejected from a game. His sin? Telling a referee to stop “acting like a (expletive) female.”
To his credit, Cousins admitted after the game that he shouldn't have said what he said. Good for him for confessing as much, but shame on him for saying what he said in the first place.
The harsh truth is that if someone wants to cut down a man in the sports world, the quickest, easiest way to do that is to call him a woman.
Late in the first half at the Thunder-Heat game last week, the home-team fans were getting frustrated. They were mad at the officials. They were mad at the visitors. They were mad at pretty much everything.
At one point, a guy behind me yelled at LeBron James.
“Quit crying like a girl,” he bellowed.
People around him laughed.
The devaluing of women isn't just a sports problem, of course. It's a societal problem. It's a cultural problem. To be strong and tough is to be a man, and oftentimes, that construct is built at the expense of a woman.
Women are seen as less than.
Look at what happened in the Jovan Belcher case. The Kansas City Chiefs linebacker murdered the mother of his infant daughter a few months ago, then drove to the team's training facility and killed himself. It was a tragic case.
But much of the focus in the aftermath was on Belcher. How he'd worked so hard to get where he was. How he was a young talent gone too soon.
Those things are true, but what about Kasandra Perkins? She's the mother of Belcher's daughter, the woman who Belcher shot nine times.
Where are the stories and the heartbreak over her?
The way that women are viewed and treated in our society and by extension in our sports world won't change overnight. It won't change because Danica Patrick went fast, made history and won the pole at the Daytona 500. But like Billy Jean King, Mia Hamm, Jackie Joyner-Kersey and other trailblazers before her, what Patrick has done is significant.
She has already scored a big win.
How she finishes Sunday won't change that.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.