The spotlight on NASCAR driver Danica Patrick has never been so bright. Patrick clinched what is undoubtedly the biggest achievement of her career this weekend, winning the Daytona 500 pole. She is the first woman to secure the top spot for any race in NASCAR’s premier circuit.
Not surprisingly, Patrick was humble, emphasizing that her success hasn’t come without overwhelming support.
“I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl,” the Associated Press reported. “That was instilled in me from very young, from the beginning….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.”
Patrick went on to acknowledge her place in the history books saying, “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.”
Patrick’s stamp on racing lore came relatively unchallenged, with a lap at 196.434 mph around Daytona International Speedway. Patrick went out eighth in the qualifying round and had to wait for two hours while 37 other drivers tried to take her spot. Jeff Gordon, four-time Cup champion was the only other driver who topped 196 mph in the qualifying round. He clinched the other guaranteed spot in next week’s season-opening Daytona 500 and he was proud to hold the spot alongside Patrick.
“It’s great to be a part of history with Danica being on the pole,” Gordon said. “I think we all know how popular she it, what this will do for our sport. Congratulations to her. Proud to be on there with her.”
The rest of the qualifying races will take place on Thursday.
Even though this accomplishment stands above all the rest, Patrick isn’t a stranger to records and historical firsts. She was the first woman to lead laps in the Indianapolis 500 and placed third in 2009, which was the highest finish in the Indianapolis 500 for a woman. She became the only woman to win an IndyCar race in Japan in 2008.
Team owner Tony Stewart spoke highly of Patrick’s achievements.
“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 a little bit more significance to it because you were the first.”
In the three seasons since her record-breaking performances in 2008 and 2009 Patrick struggled, with her best finish in 10 Cup races being 17th. She switched solely to stock cars last season after driving part time in a full IndyCar slate in 2010 and 2011. After the switch, Patrick finished 10th in the Nationwide standings.
Prior to Patrick, female racer Janet Guthrie held the record for highest female qualifier in a Cup race. She started ninth at Bristol and Tallaedga in 1977. Patrick has been much more well-received.
Of her racing Patrick concluded, “I just understand that if you put the hard work in before you go out there that you can have a little peace and a little peace of mind knowing that you’ve done everything you can and just let it happen.”