DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Danica Patrick has won the Daytona 500 pole, becoming the first woman to secure the top spot for any race in NASCAR’s top circuit.
It was the biggest achievement of her stock-car career.
“We have a lot more history to make and we’re eager to do it,” Patrick said.
Patrick went out eighth in the qualifying session Sunday and covered the 2 1/2-mile superspeedway in 45.817 seconds, averaging 196.434 mph.
She waited about two hours as 37 fellow drivers tried to take her spot. Only four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon even came close to knocking her off.
“That’s a huge accomplishment,” team owner and fellow driver Tony Stewart said. “It’s not like it’s been 15 or 20 years she’s been trying to do this. It’s her second trip to Daytona here in a Cup car. She’s made history in the sport. That’s stuff that we’re proud of being a part of with her. It’s something she should have a huge amount of pride in.
“It’s never been done. There’s only one person that can be the first to do anything. Doesn’t matter how many do it after you do, accomplish that same goal. The first one that does always has that little bit more significance to it because you were the first.”
Gordon was the only other driver who topped 196 mph in qualifying. He locked up the other guaranteed spot in next week’s season-opening Daytona 500.
“It’s great to be part of history,” Gordon said. “I can say I was the fastest guy today.”
The rest of the field will be set in duel qualifying races Thursday.
However the lineup unfolds, all drivers will line up behind Patrick’s No. 10 Chevrolet SS for “The Great American Race.”
Patrick joked about wanting to get Monday and Tuesday off, but then quickly realized her accomplishment likely will result in more attention and more demands.
“I feel a scheme coming on,” she said. “I feel a plane coming. I feel nervous.”
Patrick has been the talk of Speedweeks. Not only did she open up about her budding romance with fellow Sprint Cup rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr., but she was considered the front-runner for the pole after turning the fastest laps in practice Saturday.
And she didn’t disappoint.
She kept her car at or near the bottom of the famed track and gained ground on the straightaways, showing lots of power from a Hendrick Motorsports engine.
“It’s easy to come down here in your first or second year as a driver and clip the apron trying to run too tight a line or do something and scrub speed off,” Stewart said.
“That’s something she did an awesome job. Watching her lap, she runs so smooth. … She did her job behind the wheel, for sure.”