Danica Patrick became the first female in the history of NASCAR's top series to win a pole position for a race by posting the quickest lap during Sunday's qualifying for the Daytona 500.
One day after recording the fastest lap overall in practice, Patrick, 30, made her qualifying lap around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway at 196.434 mph (45.816 seconds) to grab the top starting position for the Feb. 24 season-opener in the Sprint Cup Series. Her Daytona 500 pole-winning speed/time was the fastest since 1990 when Ken Schrader qualified at 196.515 mph.
Patrick's first pole in Sprint Cup came in her 11th start. She competed in 10 races in the series last year. Patrick was the eighth driver to qualify in the 45-car field.
Janet Guthrie had previously held the record for highest starting position by a female in a Sprint Cup race. Guthrie qualified ninth twice during the 1977 season (Talladega and Bristol). She also had the previous best starting spot by a woman in the Daytona 500 with 18th in 1980.
After becoming the 11th different pole winner in the past 11 Daytona 500 qualifying sessions, Patrick praised her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet team. She is running a full Sprint Cup schedule this season.
"I think that just shows how well-prepared they all have been, how hard they've worked over the winter," Patrick said. "It's really amazing how much effort is put into a qualifying car for Daytona, for the 500, and really only the front row is what sticks for Sunday. It's nice that all that hard work can pay off and that we can give ourselves that opportunity to lead the pack down into the tri-oval for the green flag of the Daytona 500."
The last driver to win the Daytona 500 from the pole was Dale Jarrett in 2000.
This will be Patrick's second Daytona 500. She started 29th and finished 38th in the 2012 race, which was delayed one day for the first time ever due to rain. Patrick was caught up in an opening-lap accident but managed to finish the event 64 laps off of the pace.
"I'm going to do my best to keep it clean, keep it out of trouble, get a feel for the traffic throughout the day, and hopefully put myself in a position, position-wise and knowledge-wise, to do a good job and bring it home where it started at the end of Sunday," Patrick said of next weekend's race.
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. She became just the second female in NASCAR's second-tier series to win a pole. Shawna Robinson first did it in March 1994 at Atlanta. Patrick also finished 38th in that race.
Jeff Gordon will share the front row with Patrick in the Daytona 500. Gordon, a three-time winner of NASCAR's most prestigious race of the season, turned a lap at 196.292 mph (45.850 secs.). It will be the fourth time he will start on the front row for the Daytona 500.
"This is such a great way to get the season starting," said Gordon, whose qualifying lap was 0.034 seconds behind Patrick. "Congratulations to Danica. This is great to be a part of history. I can say that I was the fastest guy today."
Gordon concluded the 2012 season with a race victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Patrick and Gordon are the only drivers who have locked up their starting positions. The remainder of the 43-car field for the Daytona 500 will be determined in Thursday's twin-qualifying races at Daytona.
Trevor Bayne, who won the Daytona 500 as a rookie in 2011, placed third in the time trials, while Patrick's teammates, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart, were fourth and fifth, respectively.
Newman and Stewart held the second and third positions until Gordon made his qualifying lap.
"I could not be more proud of what our guys have done through the offseason," Stewart said.
Sixth through 10th in qualifying were: Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth, who is the defending winner of the Daytona 500.
While Patrick won the pole, her rookie of the year contender and romantic companion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 12th. The two revealed last month that they are dating. Patrick will start up front in the first twin-qualifier, and Stenhouse will compete in the second race, starting sixth.
"That is our fastest car that we have," said Stenhouse, who is driving the No. 17 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing this season. "We want to keep it clean, but we still have to learn what we need to do with it to have the best setup for the Daytona 500 when it comes on Sunday. We will be out there trying to work on it each time we have pit stops and in practice."
Results from Daytona 500 time trials:
1. Danica Patrick (No. 10 Chevrolet) 45.816 secs.; 196.434 mph
2. Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Chevrolet) 45.850 secs.; 196.292 mph
3. Trevor Bayne (No. 21 Ford) 45.924 secs.; 195.976 mph
4. Ryan Newman (No. 39 Chevrolet) 45.931 secs.; 195.946 mph
5. Tony Stewart (No. 14 Chevrolet) 45.936 secs.; 195.925 mph
6. Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Chevrolet) 45.953 secs.; 195.852 mph
7. Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota) 45.972 secs.; 195.771 mph
8. Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota) 45.973 secs.; 195.767 mph
9. Joey Logano (No. 22 Ford) 45.973 secs.; 195.767 mph
10. Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Toyota) 45.983 secs.; 195.725 mph
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet) 46.016 secs.; 195.584 mph
12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Ford) 46.027 secs.; 195.527 mph
13. Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Chevrolet) 46.034 secs.; 195.508 mph
14. Paul Menard (No. 27 Chevrolet) 46.035 secs.; 195.503 mph
15. Casey Mears (No. 13 Ford) 46.037 secs.; 195.495 mph
16. Austin Dillon (No. 33 Chevrolet) 46.063 secs.; 195.385 mph
17. Carl Edwards (No. 99 Ford) 46.097 secs.; 195.240 mph
18. Clint Bowyer (No. 15 Toyota) 46.100 secs.; 195.228 mph
19. Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56 Toyota) 46.105 secs.; 195.207 mph
20. Jeff Burton (No. 31 Chevrolet) 46.117 secs.; 195.156 mph
21. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet) 46.134 secs.; 195.084 mph
22. Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Chevrolet) 46.144 secs.; 195.042 mph
23. Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Ford) 46.163 secs.; 194.961 mph
24. Marcos Ambrose (No. 9 Ford) 46.203 secs.; 194.793 mph
25. Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Chevrolet) 46.215 secs.; 194.742 mph
26. Aric Almirola (No. 43 Ford) 46.215 secs.; 194.742 mph
27. Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford) 46.218 secs.; 194.729 mph
28. Mark Martin (No. 55 Toyota) 46.229 secs.; 194.683 mph
29. David Gilliland (No. 38 Ford) 46.236 secs.; 194.654 mph
30. David Ragan (No. 34 Ford) 46.245 secs.; 194.616 mph
31. Michael Waltrip (No. 26 Toyota) 46.317 secs.; 194.313 mph
32. Josh Wise (No. 35 Ford) 46.331 secs.; 194.254 mph
33. Kurt Busch (No. 78 Chevrolet) 46.474 secs.; 193.657 mph
34. Michael McDowell (No. 98 Ford) 46.501 secs.; 193.544 mph
35. Scott Speed (No. 95 Ford) 46.502 secs.; 193.540 mph
36. Terry Labonte (No. 32 Ford) 46.508 secs.; 193.515 mph
37. Regan Smith (No. 51 Chevrolet) 46.609 secs.; 193.096 mph
38. Dave Blaney (No. 7 Chevrolet) 46.633 secs.; 192.996 mph
39. Bobby Labonte (No. 47 Toyota) 46.738 secs.; 192.563 mph
40. J.J. Yeley (No. 36 Chevrolet) 46.852 secs.; 192.094 mph
41. David Reutimann (No. 83 Toyota) 47.284 secs.; 190.339 mph
42. Travis Kvapil (No. 93 Toyota) 47.333 secs.; 190.142 mph
43. Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Toyota) 47.357 secs.; 190.046 mph
44. Mike Bliss (No. 19 Chevrolet) 47.509 secs.; 189.438 mph
45. Brian Keselowski (No. 52 Toyota) 48.946 secs.; 183.876 mph