Danica Patrick remains a longshot to win the Daytona 500, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers, even after becoming the first female to earn the pole position in the 55-year history of Nascar’s season-opening race.
Patrick, 30, earned the first starting spot for Nascar’s Feb. 24 marquee event by posting the fastest qualifying lap two days ago at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida.
Patrick finished 38th in her Daytona 500 debut last year after her car was damaged on a second-lap crash and has 40-1 odds of winning this year, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book. Twenty other drivers in the 43-car field have better odds of winning than Patrick, who made 10 starts in Sprint Cup events a year ago in her full-time Nascar debut.
“I have no doubt that I’ll be extremely nervous,” Patrick told reporters. “There will be 42 anxious drivers behind me trying to get ahead. It’s a handful.”
Patrick two days ago posted the fastest lap time of 45.817 seconds and her top speed of 196.434 miles per hour (316.13 kilometers per hour) was the fastest in Daytona 500 qualifying since 1990. It made Patrick the first female driver to win the pole for any race in Nascar’s top series, the Sprint Cup.
The best previous qualifying position by a woman was a pair of ninth-place starts by Janet Guthrie in 1977. Guthrie started 18th in the 1980 Daytona 500, the previous best start for a woman at “The Great American Race.”
Patrick previously earned a pole position in Nascar’s second-tier Nationwide Series, as did Shawna Robinson in 1994. Patrick held the pole at last year’s season-opening Nationwide Series race at Daytona and finished 38th.
In 10 previous Sprint Cup races, Patrick’s best finish is 17th place. She has one top-five finish in 58 career starts on the Nationwide Series.
“I have a lot to learn,” Patrick said. “I’m a rookie and I am going to be learning as much as I can for 499 or maybe until the last 10 laps. When you implement your plan, it depends where you are. Hopefully at the end of 500 we’re rolling and we have a chance.”
Matt Kenseth won the 2012 Daytona 500, which was run at night after being pushed back a day by rain. Kenseth is listed as the 8-1 favorite for this week’s race, meaning a winning $100 bet would return a $800 profit.
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have 10-1 odds, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart at 12-1. Patrick is racing for the Stewart- Haas Racing team that’s co-owned by Stewart and had three of the five fastest cars in qualifying.
“She’s going to turn some heads this summer,” Stewart said. “Whether it’s consistent or whether it’s one or two races at a time, none of us really know. The thing that I caution is, everybody puts high expectations. We feel like she’s got the tools and mindset to go out and do a good job each week.”
The last driver to win the Daytona 500 from the pole position was Dale Jarrett in 2000. Jeff Gordon also won it from the pole in 1999 and qualified second alongside Patrick for this weekend’s race. The starting positions for the rest of field will be determined in qualifying races on Feb. 21.
“I’m proud to be on the front row this year side-by-side with Danica,” said Gordon, who has 15-1 odds to win. “I’ve always been a big believer in what’s good for the sport is good for all of us. So this is great for the sport. The rest of us will benefit from that, as well.”
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