Patrick quickest in Daytona 500 qualifying practice

Danica Patrick turned in the fastest lap during Saturday's practice at Daytona International Speedway, making her a strong contender for the pole position for the Feb. 24 Daytona 500.

Patrick, who is a rookie contender in the Sprint Cup Series this season, recorded the quickest lap overall in Daytona 500 qualifying practice at 196.220 mph, which occurred during the second session. The driver of the No. 10 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing was third on the time/speed charts during the first session at 195.359 mph.

Just the first two starting positions for the Daytona 500 will be decided in Sunday's time trials, which is scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. ET. The remainder of the 43-car field will be decided in the Feb. 21 twin-qualifying races (Budweiser Duel).

With NASCAR returning to a random draw to determine the qualifying order for Sprint Cup races this season, Patrick is scheduled to make her qualifying run eighth in the 45-car field. For the past two seasons, the order had been set based on overall practice speeds from slowest to fastest.

"I suppose being the fastest going into qualifying is as good as you could hope for," Patrick said. "But I also understand that (qualifying) is a whole different day. We could go out there on the track and just for some reason not have as much speed as we had hoped for. We could be in an unfortunate situation with wind or weather, temperatures, clouds, so I understand that.

"We have done everything we can to prepare for it. We all feel pretty confident, but tomorrow is a different day."

According to the National Weather Service, the forecast for the Daytona Beach area tomorrow calls a high near 53 degrees and a northwest wind around 15 mph, with gusts reaching as high as 25 mph.

When Sprint Cup teams tested at Daytona for three days last month, Patrick was continuously among the fastest, particularly in single-car runs.

"We came here this weekend for the race with another car than what we tested," she said. "We weren't sure if we were going to bring the same one back or not because it ran so well. This other car was really good in the wind tunnel so we brought it. You always hope that the numbers from the wind tunnel translate to speed on the track and it did."

Joey Logano, who is in his first season as driver of the No. 22 Ford for Penske Racing, led the way in the first session at 195.410 mph.

Last year, Patrick won the pole position for the Nationwide Series season- opener at Daytona, driving the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports at the time. No female has ever won the pole for the Daytona 500. Could Patrick be the first?

"It would be really nice," she noted. "It is a very big pole of all of them in the year for attention."