By Mark Long
The Associated Press
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — 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 before.
Patrick won the Daytona 500 pole Sunday, becoming the first woman to secure the top spot for any race in NASCAR’s premier 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 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.
“For those reasons, 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 session, then had to wait about two hours as 37 drivers tried to take her spot.
Only four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon even came close to knocking her off. Gordon was the only other driver who topped 196 mph in qualifying. 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. “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.”
The rest of the field will be set in duel qualifying races Thursday.
“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. 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 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.”
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