Thursday, February 22, 2018
Sports

Patrick's Daytona pole historic

DAYTONA BEACH

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.

Patrick won the Daytona 500 pole Sunday, 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 very young, from the beginning. Then I feel like thriving in those moments, where the pressure's on, has also been a help for me.

"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 stamp in the history books came with a lap at 196.434 mph around Daytona International Speedway. Patrick went out eighth in the qualifying line, then had to wait about two hours as 37 fellow drivers tried to take her spot.

Only four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon came close and was the only other driver to top 196 mph. He locked up the other guaranteed spot in next week's season-opening 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 and that, "I'm glad I didn't win the pole. It would have messed up that story."

The rest of the field will be set in duel qualifying races Thursday.

Making history is nothing new for Patrick, the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500. She finished third in 2009, the highest finish in that illustrious race for a woman. And she became the only woman to win an IndyCar race, in Japan in 2008.

But that win came past midnight on the East Coast. Leading the field to the green flag in NASCAR's showcase event might be an even bigger media splash.

"That's a huge accomplishment," team owner and fellow driver 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."

The best start by a woman in Sprint Cup had been by Janet Guthrie, ninth in two races in 1977.

Even before her fast lap Sunday, Patrick was the talk of Speedweeks. Not only did she open up about her budding romance with Sprint Cup rookie Ricky Stenhouse, but she was considered the front-runner for the pole after leading practice Saturday.

On Sunday she kept her car at or near the bottom of the famed track and gained ground on the straightaways, showing power from a Hendrick Motorsports engine — the same type run by Gordon, and by Patrick's teammates at Stewart-Haas, Ryan Newman (who had the fourth-best speed) and Stewart (fifth).

"This is great," said Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood of Tampa. "Track presidents — you take that title away — we were always promoters first. And promoting is about publicity and attention and getting people focused on something. We want every eyeball."

Patrick, 30, joked about wanting today and Tuesday off, then quickly realized her accomplishment likely will result in more attention and more demands.

"I feel a scheme coming on," she said. "I feel a plane coming. I feel nervous."

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