Call her Daytona Danica. And call her work historic.
After a week in which her romantic relationship with fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has led the news at Daytona International Speedway, Danica Patrick turned the talk – and it was loud – to racing Sunday by winning the pole position for the Daytona 500.
Patrick, qualifying early in the session, was clocked at 196.434 miles per hour, running one of the fastest restrictor-plate time-trial laps in Daytona history. The bigger timeline moment, however, is this one – she is the first female pole winner in the history of NASCAR’s top series, dating to 1949.
And she did it in qualifying for NASCAR’s biggest race.
The pole carries no promise of success – the last 500 pole winner to also win the race was Dale Jarrett in 2000, but it’s worth a week’s worth of publicity. And, in Patrick’s case, that can be doubled or tripled.
Only a handful of women have raced in the Cup series. Prior to Patrick’s Sunday run, the best qualifying effort – ninth – by a woman had been posted by Janet Guthrie in 1977.
Every driver will confess that qualifying at Daytona is mostly about the car, but that does not diminish Patrick’s achievement. She outran some of NASCAR’s top guns – Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne, among others – to sit atop the sport for a day.
Gordon was second to Patrick Sunday. The top two spots are locked in for the 500. The rest of the 500 grid will be filled by the results of Thursday’s qualifying races, time-trial speeds and provisionals.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.