Monday, February 18, 2013

Danica Patrick wins historic pole for Daytona 500

Published 21 hours and 31 minutes ago Last updated 14 hours and 53 minutes ago

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Danica Patrick reacted to winning the Daytona 500 pole, the first ever Cup pole for a female driver, like any racecar driver would.
She was thrilled with the accomplishment but knew she played just a small role.

Danica Patrick won the pole Sunday at Daytona 500 qualifying, becoming the first woman to claim Sprint Cup's top starting spot. (AP Photo)
The 30-year-old Patrick had already set several historic benchmarks for women in racing, including the only woman to win an IndyCar race, the highest finish of any female in the Indianapolis 500 (third), the highest finish of any female in a NASCAR national touring series race (fourth) and the highest season-ending finish of any female in a NASCAR national touring series (10th).

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So she knew the significance Sunday when she became the first woman ever to win a pole for the Daytona 500 and in the 2,354-race history of NASCAR’s premier series.
“I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl,” Patrick said.
“That was instilled in me from the very young, from the beginning. . … 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.”

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She made history while also knowing that winning a pole at Daytona, even one for the Daytona 500, often tests the limits of the car and not the driver’s expertise.
A driver keeps the gas pedal pressed to the floor the entire lap and must concentrate on hitting their marks just right over the 2.5 miles around Daytona International Speedway.
That’s why Patrick, a rookie who has run just 10 Sprint Cup races and only one Daytona 500, deflected much of the credit to Stewart-Haas Racing crew chief Tony Gibson.
“I appreciate the recognition, but it really falls 90 percent on Tony and his guys, everybody that gives me the car to go out there and be fast,” Patrick said, “and maybe 10 percent on me.”
Patrick, fastest in practice Saturday, turned a lap of 196.434 mph to win the pole Sunday by 0.142 mph (0.033 seconds) over four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon.
“There's a lot of people that benefit from this because of the big platform that it is,” Patrick said. “It's not just like the high point of my name or what I've done. There's going to be a whole story here.
“It's a cool day. I've been lucky enough and very blessed in my career to have had a lot of really, really cool days.”
She hopes next Sunday will be one of her coolest days as she runs the Daytona 500 for just the second time.
Only Patrick and Gordon are locked into their starting spots for the Daytona 500 as they will start on the front row.
Rows 2-16 will be determined by the results in the two qualifying races Thursday, with speed and provisionals determining the remaining 11 positions.
Patrick, whose team is ranked 42nd among the 45 teams entered in 2012 owner points it bought from a now-defunct organization, has the comfort of knowing she’s locked into the Daytona 500.
That gave her and Gibson, who has won Cup titles as a car chief for Alan Kulwicki and Gordon, as much relief as excitement in winning the pole.
Gibson has used Patrick’s status as a NASCAR rookie to bring an underdog mentality to his team.
“I told her, ‘We know there's going to be low points, but the key to success for us is to enjoy the highs and pat each other on the back and enjoy it. When we hit our lows, pick each other up and get to the next one,” Gibson said.
“Right now we're enjoying this and it's real big for me. I've accomplished a lot of things, but this ranks up there in the top two or three.”
Patrick didn’t have the only fast SHR car as teammates Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart ranked fourth and fifth on the chart, behind her, Gordon and Trevor Bayne.
“That (pole) is a huge accomplishment,” said team co-owner and three-time Cup champion Stewart. “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. … There's only one person that can be the first to do anything.”
Going fast at Daytona is nothing new for Patrick, who sat on the pole for the Nationwide Series race a year ago at Daytona.
Patrick is entering her second full-time NASCAR season and first in Cup after two partial Nationwide schedules and then a full-time year in Nationwide in 2012.
“I think when pressure's on, when the spotlight is on, I do feel like it ultimately ends up becoming some of my better moments, better races, better results,” Patrick said.
“I don't know why that is. I'm grateful for it because the opposite of that would be, I'm guessing, I probably wouldn't be here today.”
She hopes, in some ways, that her records will be broken or her influence will make future gender-standards fall.
“It's … nice to hear families talk about the fact that a little girl might say, ‘But, mommy, daddy, that's a girl out there,’” Patrick said. “Then they can have the conversation with their kid about you can do anything you want and being different doesn't by any means not allow you to follow your dreams.
“I love to think that conversation happens in households because of something I'm doing.”

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