A year after making her Sprint Cup Series debut in the same race, Danica Patrick will lead the field to the green flag for the Daytona 500 after qualifying on the pole during Sundays front row qualifying session at Daytona International Speedway, becoming the first woman to do so.
It’s not her first pole position since making the full-time switch from IndyCar to NASCAR-style racing at the start of 2012. Twelve months ago she qualified fastest for the Daytona Nationwide Series event. But this result easily eclipses her best Sprint Cup starting position (23rd) and the best starting position for a woman in the sport’s top flight (Janet Guthrie, 9th twice in 1977). She is also the first NASCAR rookie to claim pole for the Daytona 500 since five-time champion Jimmie Johnson back in 2002.
“Pride. I’m proud of all the hard work that goes into making a pole car,” Patrick said.” I’m happy for them (the team). It was a fast Chevy. … If you’re anywhere but the front row, it’s hard to see on race day. … This just speaks volumes about Stewart-Haas Racing. I thought we were going to be 1-2-3 for a while.”
It wasn’t necessarily a surprise. Patrick posted the fastest speed of Saturday’s two qualifying practices and ran slightly faster during her second qualifying lap on Sunday, knocking owner and teammate Tony Stewart from the provisional pole.
Given her motorsports ubiquity, her qualifying effort guarantees to keep her in the spotlight for the next seven days leading up to the most famous race of the NASCAR season. However, as Patrick has garnered a lot of media attention in the recent weeks for her relationship with fellow driver and Rookie of the Year contender Ricky Stenhouse, this time, the attention will be because of her success on the track. And no matter your opinion of her, that’s a good thing.