DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Danica Patrick has made history before – as a woman and a racer, in Indianapolis and Japan.
The spotlight is nothing new. But never has it been this bright before.
Patrick on Sunday won the pole for next Sunday’s Daytona 500, becoming the first woman to secure the top spot for any race in NASCAR’s top circuit. It’s by far the biggest achievement of her stock-car career.
“I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl,” she said. “That was instilled in me from … the beginning. Then I feel like 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.”
Her latest mark on history came with a lap at 196.434 mph around Daytona International Speedway. Patrick went out eighth in the qualifying session, then had to wait about two hours while 37 fellow drivers tried to take her spot.
Only four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon came close to knocking her off. Gordon was the only other driver who topped 196 mph in qualifying. He locked up the other guaranteed spot in the Daytona 500.
“It’s great to be a part of history with Danica being on the pole,” said Gordon, who joked that at least he was the fastest guy. “I think we all know how popular she is, what this will do for our sport.”
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.
“That’s a huge accomplishment,” team owner 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.”
The previous highest female qualifier in a Cup race was Janet Guthrie. She started ninth at Bristol and Talladega in 1977.
Courtney Force won the Funny Car at the NHRA Winternationals and Top Fuel world champ Antron Brown walked away from a fiery crash with minor injuries in Pomona, Calif. Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel) and Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) also won.