Danica Patrick wins pole for NASCAR's Daytona 500

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 18, 2013 at 2:07 am •  Published: February 18, 2013
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Even before her fast lap, Patrick had been the talk of Speedweeks. Not only did she open up about her budding romance with Stenhouse — Patrick officially filed to end her seven-year marriage to 47-year-old Paul Hospenthal in January — but she was considered the front-runner for the pole after leading practice sessions Saturday.

Now, she will garner even more hype.

"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."

The result surely felt good for Patrick, especially considering the former IndyCar driver has mostly struggled in three NASCAR seasons. Her best finish in 10 Cup races is 17th, and she has one top-five in 58 starts in the second-tier Nationwide Series.

She raced part-time in 2010 and 2011 while still driving a full IndyCar slate. She switched solely to stock cars last season and finished 10th in the Nationwide standings.

She made the jump to Sprint Cup this season and will battle Stenhouse for Rookie of the Year honors.

Starting out front in an unpredictable, 500-mile race doesn't guarantee any sort of result, but securing the pole will put her in the limelight for at least the rest of the week.

"I don't think about Danica as a female race-car driver," defending Cup champion Brad Keselowski said. "I think of her as a rookie and someone that hasn't won races or proved that she is competitive."

Patrick won the pole at Daytona for last year's Nationwide race.

But this is considerably different, significantly bigger.

The previous highest female qualifier in a Cup race was Janet Guthrie. She started ninth at Bristol and Talladega in 1977.

"It's obviously a history-making event that will last a long, long time," Guthrie said, praising Patrick's feat. "It's a different era, of course. Different times. I can't imagine what I would do with a spotter or somebody telling me how to drive. It's rather a different sport now. Back then, there was a much greater difference from the front of the field to the back."