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Danica Patrick first woman to win Daytona 500 pole

3:33 PM, Feb 17, 2013   |    comments
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Danica Patrick/AP

Heather Tucker, USA TODAY Sports

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick keeps making history.

Patrick, who has made headlines since Speedweeks began while fielding questions about her relationship with fellow Cup rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr., has made headlines again -- for doing something on the track.

She became the first woman to win the pole position for the Daytona 500 -- and a Sprint Cup event -- on Sunday when the rookie posted a lap of 196.434 mph.

"I've only done Cup qualifying here once before (last year) ... this has been very straightforward, very predictable and consistent," Patrick said Sunday. "I hope it's enough."

Enough it was.

Patrick, who won the Nationwide Series pole position at Daytona last year, was quickest in qualifying practice on Saturday.

She went out eighth in Sunday's session, and promptly knocked off teammate and team owner Tony Stewart, who went out first and posted a 195.925 mph lap.

Janet Guthrie qualified ninth in 1977 at Talladega and Bristol, the previous best starting spot for a woman in Cup history. Only two previous poles for women in NASCAR history. Patrick here, and Shawna Robinson in a Nationwide race in Atlanta in 1994.

Stenhouse watched from pit road and later ran a lap of 195.537 as Patrick watched from a TV booth before an interview.

"Don't get me wrong, I still want the pole," Patrick said after watching Stenhouse Jr. qualify. "I think he'll be happy with that time."

Jeff Gordon posted a lap of 196.292 in another Chevrolet and sits on the outside of the front row; Trevor Bayne, who became the youngest driver to win the Daytona 500 in 2011, is third with a lap of 195.976.

When Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip asked Patrick to compare winning the Daytona 500 pole to winning the Indianapolis 500 pole, she responded:

"It would definitely be a high point memory. I think Daytona has such a legendary following. Somebody said winning the pole for the Daytona 500 was the fourth-biggest race. It's clearly a very important moment in the year," she said. "... What the fans need to understand is we're holding it wide open, but it's not just a car. There's so many little things the team does to be ready to go out there."

Stenhouse said after qualifying: "I think we've got a good race car; I'm looking forward to the duels."

Said Patrick of Stenhouse on Fox: "He's never been another number. ... He's somebody I feel like at any point in time racing against him the last few years, we've always had a lot of respect. We have a lot in common. I asked him, 'Do you think we're very similar?' And he said, 'No.'"

The former IndyCar driver, who won an open-wheel race in that series and became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500, ran 10 Cup races for team owner Stewart last season to help prepare for her full-time debut this year.

"I think it shows how hard Stewart-Haas Racing has worked on this new car," Patrick said of how fast the team was Sunday. "I think there's a lot to be proud of there. ... Obviously Hendrick has done a really good job giving us good engines."

Patrick went out eighth of 45 drivers trying to make the field for the Great American Race.

"Obviously, Ricky put up a good lap. I feel like they do a good job of holding back until qualifying. I'm watching Austin (Dillon) ... You've got Junior coming up. ... Basically, I'm worried about every single driver left to go."

When qualifying began at 1:05 p.m., temperatures were hovering around 50 degrees and it was very breezy.

Stewart, who said it would be difficult to judge how the car handles in those conditions for a Daytona 500 setup, put a jacket on as soon as he got out of his car.

He said it was harder to stay warm since a crew member had busted the zipper on his driver's suit.

Teammate Ryan Newman posted a lap of 195.946. All three Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolets are fast out of the gate.

"Danica obviously was good in practice, better than us," Newman said. "She's had the best session so far this weekend."

The six fastest qualifiers are assured a spot in the field.

"It's really nice to know that no matter what happens in those duels, you're in," Patrick said. "You put so much into qualifying, and then for the most part other than the front row, it's over. And you have to race for it, and it's such a crap shoot."

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