Danica Patrick, who makes as much news for being a “poster girl” and her TV spots for outspoken Internet company GODADDY.com as she does her racing, took steps to silence her critics today. On February 16th, she was a NASCAR driver. Today she is the polesitter for the 2013 running of the “Great American Race,” the legendary Daytona 500.
Patrick, who said she is used to being the first to do a lot of things, adds one more to her growing list of achievements. She becomes the first woman to win the pole at Daytona for a Cup race. It also marked the first time a female had qualified for the pole for any top-level NASCAR event. The previous best qualifying for a female driver for a Cup race was Janet Guthrie in 1997 when she started ninth at Talladega. Guthrie also held the best qualifying spot at the Daytona 500 at 18th. Shawna Robinson was the first female to win a pole at any NASCAR event taking the top spot at 1994’s Atlanta Nationwide race. Despite the justified excitement from today’s accomplishment, this is not the first time Patrick has started up front at Daytona. She also won the Daytona pole for NASCAR’s Nationwide Series in 2012.
Patrick, who drives for Stewart-Haas Racing, topped the field with a time of 195.925 mph on a cool and blustery day. She bested teammates Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart who finished qualifying in the fourth and fifth spots. Another Daytona record setter begins the race in third. Taylor Bayne, who was Daytona’s youngest winner in 2011 qualified just ahead of Newman. Patrick shares the front row with three-time Daytona winner Jeff Gordon who posted a speed of 196.292. “Congratulations to Danica,” Gordon said. “I can say I was the fastest guy today.”
Danica was quick to shift focus in facing the hype of her achievement. “I appreciate the recognition, but it really falls 90 percent on Tony [Gibson] and his guys, everybody that gives me the car to go out there and be fast,” she said, “and maybe 10 percent on me.” Crew chief Tony Gibson was just as quick to say that it was more of an even split. Patrick also knows that she can’t just sit back and dwell on this achievement, there is still more work to do. She told CNN that fully absorbing the accomplishment “is something that happens down the road. In the moment, it’s about thinking about what I need to do for next Sunday and trying to make some more history.”
2013 marks Patrick’s first full year as a member of NASCAR’s Cup series. As such she still qualifies as a rookie and became the first rookie to win Daytona’s pole since Jimmie Johnson accomplished the feat in 2002. In addition to driving fulltime in the Nationwide Series, she drove in 10 Sprint Cup races in 2012 qualifying no higher than 23rd. Before moving to NASCAR, Patrick spent several years in open-wheel racing as an IndyCar driver. She became the first female to win a race in that series in Japan in 2008, the first to win a pole at Kansas (2005), as well as the first to lead a lap in the famed Indianapolis 500.