DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Danica Patrick made NASCAR history on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway by winning the pole for the 55th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 24.
Patrick, driving the No. 10 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, turned a fast lap of 196.434 mph around the 2.5-mile tri-oval to become the first woman to win a pole for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.
“It’s really amazing how much effort is put into a qualifying car for Daytona and really only the front row is what sticks for Sunday,” Patrick said. “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.”
Patrick’s pole tops the previous best starting position for a female in the Daytona 500, which was 18th by Janet Guthrie in 1980. She is also the first rookie to win the Daytona 500 pole since Jimmie Johnson in 2002.
Earning the Daytona 500 pole secures Patrick’s spot in the invitation-only 2014 Sprint Unlimited At Daytona.
Patrick made her first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start in last year’s Daytona 500 and finished 38th. She will kick off her first full season in the Sprint Cup Series starting with next Sunday’s Daytona 500.
For the moment, she is enjoying the spotlight that comes with winning the Daytona 500 pole.
“I love it when people put me on the radar,” said Patrick, who was the favorite entering qualifying to win the pole. “It’s a confidence boost when people are saying, ‘I heard Mr. Childress say he thought I was the one to lose the pole.’ When people put you on the radar, that feels good to me.
“Today was about executing and doing everything right, just having a clean run. It was a little too nervous to sit on the pole throughout the whole thing. Watching all those cars, that’s nerve-wracking, especially on an empty stomach.”
The Daytona 500 pole was also special to Patrick’s crew chief Tony Gibson, who is a native of Daytona Beach.
“It’s a big deal for me, personally,” Gibson said. “I’ve been knocked off these front rows several times by just a little bit. It’s really nice to come here and get it done, especially for the Daytona 500, my hometown. It’s a big deal.”
Starting alongside Patrick will be three-time Daytona 500 champion Jeff Gordon, who earned his fourth career front row Daytona 500 start with a speed of 196.292 mph. Earlier in the day, Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet received significant damage after falling off the jack but the crew successfully repaired the car prior to qualifying.
“This is big to be on the front row at Daytona,” Gordon said. “It’s an accomplishment in itself just because of how many people put so much hard work into it, not just from our team but all the teams that are out here.
“When you have all winter long to prepare, you have the biggest race of the year as your first race, there’s a lot of effort that goes into those two laps.”
The remainder of the Daytona 500 starting field will be finalized in Thursday’s Budweiser Duel At Daytona 150-mile qualifying races (SPEED, MRN Radio), which begin at 2:00 p.m. ET.
2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne, driving the No. 21 Ford for the famed Wood Brothers, qualified third with a lap of 195.976 mph while Stewart-Haas Racing cars took fourth and fifth place with 2008 Daytona 500 champion Ryan Newman (195.946) and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart (195.925 mph).
Stewart was proud of the effort of the crew from all three of his cars as well as Patrick’s feat.
“That’s a huge accomplishment,” Stewart said of Patrick’s pole-winning run. “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. That’s stuff that we’re proud of being a part of with her. It’s something she should have a huge amount of pride in.
“It’s never been done. There’s one person that can be the first to do anything.”
Next on track will be the UNOH Battle At The Beach, which will showcase the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, NASCAR K&N Pro Series and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Monday and Tuesday on the .4-mile short track located on the backstretch.