Danica Patrick broke another milestone in her young NASCAR career on Sunday, becoming the first woman to win the Daytona 500 pole.
Patrick managed to etch her way into the history books by defeating 44 other drivers with a lap time of 196.434 mph around Daytona International Speedway. Patrick, who went out eighth in the qualifying session, had to wait for two hours as 37 other drivers attempted to steal her spot.
“I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl,” Patrick told reporters. “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 also feel like I’ve been lucky in my career to be with good teams and have good people around me. I don’t think any of it would have been possible without that.”
Three-time Daytona 500 champion Jeff Gordon was the driver who most closely challenged Patrick for the pole position. Gordon was the only other driver to break the 196 mph mark in qualifying, but his top speed of 196.292 was not good enough to unseat Patrick.
“It’s great to be a part of history with Danica being on the pole,” said Gordon, who will be sharing the front row with Patrick. “I think we all know how popular she is, what this will do for our sport. Congratulations to her. Proud to be on there with her.”
Being the first woman to accomplish a feat in racing is nothing new to Patrick. She became the first woman to lead laps in the Indianapolis 500 in 2009. Patrick finished third that year, the highest finish for any woman in Indianapolis 500. In Japan in 2008 she became the only woman to win an IndyCar race.
Patrick’s team owner and fellow driver Tony Stewart applauded her, telling reporters that Patrick should take great pride in achieving such a milestone that she will always be able to look back on.
“It’s never been done,” Stewart said. “There’s only one person that can be the first to do anything. Doesn’t matter how many do it after you do, accomplish that same goal. The first one that does always has that little bit more significance to it because you were the first.”
Patrick has struggled to find her way in her first three NASCAR seasons. Her best finish in 10 Cup races is 17th, with only one Top 5 in 58 starts in the Nationwide Series.
With Patrick claiming the pole spot for NASCAR’s biggest race, she eclipsed Janet Guthrie’s 1977 record. Guthrie was the highest female qualifier in a Cup race when she started ninth at Bristol and Talladega in 1977.
Guthrie acknowledged that times are different from when she qualified due to having spotters communicating with drivers.
“It’s obviously a history-making event that will last a long, long time,” Guthrie told ESPN.com.
The rest of the Daytona 500 will be set on Thursday with dual qualifying races, but all the drivers will be lined up behind Patrick’s No. 10 Chevrolet SS come Sunday.