I have seen a lot of things since getting into NASCAR about 18 years ago, and often there’s not many things that happen I haven’t seen before. But frankly, what happened on Sunday was not only a first for me, but a first in the history of Sprint Cup.
When this young lady decided to make the switch from open-wheel racing to NASCAR, everyone, including myself, felt it was just for publicity, for sponsors, and exposure. Not many people believed she would do this just because she wanted to race in the sport. But, last year Danica Patrick committed full-time to NASCAR, running a full schedule in the Nationwide Series, winning a pole and almost winning a couple races. She finished in the top-10 in points, a feat never before accomplished by a woman in NASCAR.
Now, this year she has made the jump to the Cup series, becoming a third team in the Stewart-Haas Racing camp. Everyone wondered what she would do, or if she could hang with the top names in the series.
But keep this in mind, Daytona over her short NASCAR career has been her best track, statistically. So coming into Speedweeks, she was confident. Her team also was confident in the car, as was the case on Saturday as she led the final practice, topping 196 MPH.
Now, the woman who originally made news by announcing she and fellow rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are dating can officially say she made a bigger story on her own.
After 45 cars made a qualifying run on Sunday afternoon for the big event, the Daytona 500, Danica Patrick was the one at the top of the heap, bettering second-place qualifier Jeff Gordon by four-hundredths of a second to become the 11th different driver in as many seasons to win the pole for the “Great American Race.” She is also the first woman in Sprint Cup history, Winston Cup or Grand National, call it what you want depending on the generation, to win a pole at the top level.
But as great as a run she had, she didn’t do it alone. Patrick was quick to thank her sponsors, her team, crew chief Tony Gibson, owner Tony Stewart, and everyone that put the team together. It was a group effort, and she made sure that was the point in the end.
Now, unless Patrick’s team is forced to change an engine, transmission, or has a wreck that forces her to go to a backup car, she will take the field to green next Sunday in the 55th Daytona 500. She and Gordon are guaranteed to start in those positions. The next 16 rows will be determined based on Thursday’s qualifying races, the Budweiser Duels. Once those positions are set, the remaining 11 spots will be set up based on qualifying speed, owner’s points, and provisional starting spots.
The Duels will be broadcast on SPEED at 2 p.m. No track activity is scheduled for Sprint Cup until Wednesday afternoon at Noon.
But for now, the spotlight is squarely on the lime green No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS of Danica Patrick, who can officially put her name down as the first pole winner in 2013.
Part three of my Daytona coverage will come Thursday after the Budweiser Duels, which will give the full field line-up for the Daytona 500.