Danica Patrick became the first woman to win the pole position for a race in Nascar’s top series by going quickest in qualifying for the Daytona 500.
Patrick, 30, took the first starting position for the Feb. 24 auto race by posting a fastest lap of 45.817 seconds yesterday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida.
It’s the best qualifying position for a female driver in Sprint Cup history, eclipsing 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 stock-car league’s marquee event, dubbed “The Great American Race.” Patrick previously earned a pole position in Nascar’s second-tier Nationwide Series, as did Shawna Robinson in 1994.
“I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl, so I feel like that was instilled in me from the beginning,” Patrick said yesterday at a news conference.
Patrick, driving for the Stewart-Haas Racing team, posted a top speed of 196.434 miles per hour (316.13 kilometers per hour). It was the fastest in Daytona 500 qualifying since Ken Schrader hit 196.515 mph in 1990, Nascar said.
“I appreciate the recognition, but it falls 90 percent on Tony, his guys, and everybody who gives me the car to go out there and be fast,” said Patrick, who competed in 10 top-tier races last year in her full-time Nascar debut for the team co-owned by three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart.
Jeff Gordon was second in yesterday’s Daytona 500 qualifying with a time of 45.85 and a top speed of 196.292. The starting positions for the rest of 43-car field will be determined in qualifying races on Feb. 21.
The last driver to win the Daytona 500 from the pole position was Dale Jarrett in 2000.
Patrick made her first Daytona 500 start last year, when the race was delayed one day by rain for the first time since its debut in 1959. She qualified 29th on the grid and finished 38th after her car was damaged on a second-lap crash.
“I understand my position,” Patrick said. “I have a good car. I’m going to do my best to keep it clean, keep it out of trouble and hopefully put myself in a position to do a good job and have a chance to bring it home where it started.”
Patrick claimed the pole position for the Nationwide Series 2012 season-opening race at Daytona and finished 38th.
Guthrie finished 12th in the 1977 Daytona 500 and was 11th three years later. Robinson, the only other woman to compete in the race, finished 24th in 2002.
“Thriving in those moments when the pressure is on has been a help for me and I’ve also been very lucky in my career to have been with good teams,” Patrick said. “For those reasons I’ve been lucky enough to make history and be the first woman to do many things. I really just hope I don’t stop doing that. We have a lot more history to make.”