Driver Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a pole at NASCAR's highest level, the Sprint Cup Series, and will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Danica Patrick, who already made plenty of news off the track at Daytona, made NASCAR history on it Sunday.
Patrick became the first woman to win a pole at NASCAR’s highest level, the Sprint Cup Series, and will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
The previous best start for a woman in the series was ninth by Janet Guthrie in 1977. Guthrie also holds the previous best start for a woman in the Daytona 500, starting 18th in 1980.
Patrick turned a lap of 196.434 mph in her Stewart-Haas Chevrolet.
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“I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl,” said Patrick, who has made 10 Sprint Cup starts since beginning the transition to NASCAR from the open-wheel IndyCar Series in 2010.
“Thriving in those moments where the pressure’s on has also been a help for me. I also feel like I’ve been lucky in my career to be with good teams and have good people around me. I don’t think any of it would have been possible without that. For those reasons, I’ve been lucky enough to make history, be the first woman to do many things. I really just hope that I don’t stop doing that. We have a lot more history to make. We are excited to do it.”
Patrick’s first feeling upon learning she won the pole?
“Pride,” the 30-year-old replied. “I’m proud of all the hard work that goes into making a pole-winning car. It’s not just turning left.”
Jeff Gordon will start second in the Daytona 500. The rest of the field will be decided in qualifying races Thursday.
“I’ve always been a big believer in what’s good for the sport is good for all of us,” Gordon said. “So this is great for the sport. The rest of us will benefit from that, as well. I’m proud to be on the front row this year, side-by-side with Danica.
“I’m glad I didn’t win the pole, or we would have messed that story all up.”
Kasey Kahne of Enumclaw had the sixth-fastest qualifying time, and Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash., had the 27th-fastest time.
Before the weekend, almost all of the attention that surrounded Patrick since her arrival Thursday at Daytona was about her budding romance with fellow Cup rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Sunday’s run turned the topic back to the approaching race, at least for a while.
Patrick is the first rookie to win the Daytona pole since Jimmie Johnson in 2002.
Although Patrick’s best finish in a Sprint Cup race is 17th, and she has one top-five finish from 61 career starts on the second-tier NASCAR Nationwide Series, she was considered a threat for the pole after turning the fastest lap in practice Saturday.
Patrick raced part-time in NASCAR during 2009 and 2010 while competing in the open-wheel IndyCar series. In 2005, she finished fourth in the Indianapolis 500 and led 19 laps, the first woman to lead at Indy. In 2008, she became the only woman to win an IndyCar Series race; that victory in Japan is her only one in 115 IndyCar starts.
Patrick was third in the 2009 Indy 500, the best finish by a woman in the history of the celebrated race.
Patrick has known more success off the track for her marketing appeal, 12 Super Bowl commercials and modeling. She has struggled most of the time in NASCAR, but her Cup car co-owner Tony Stewart — a three-time Cup champion driver — doesn’t doubt her ability.
“She’s got talent,” Stewart said. “To come here and have that kind of composure and to run a lap as smooth as she did, that’s a huge accomplishment.
“It’s not like it has been 15 or 20 years she’s been trying to do this. It’s her second trip to Daytona in a Cup car.”
Guthrie, 74, congratulated Patrick and told The Associated Press: “I’m ancient history. It’s about time my little record got broken.”
• Courtney Force (Funny Car), Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel) and Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) were winners at the NHRA Winternationals, the Drag Racing Series season opener in Pomona, Calif.
|Is it an advantage?|
|The last five pole winners for the Daytona 500:|
|2011||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||24th|
|2009||Martin Truex Jr.||11th|