Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Forget Speedweeks. It's going to be
Danica-mania week at Daytona.
From last Thursday's media day at Daytona International Speedway to qualifying
for the Daytona 500 on Sunday, the media have swarmed around Danica Patrick
like a flock of seagulls from nearby Lake Lloyd fighting over bread crumbs.
The news about Patrick at Daytona, though, has shifted from her romantic
relationship with fellow Sprint Cup Series competitor Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to
her historic achievement in NASCAR by winning the pole position for the Feb.
24 Daytona 500.
When Sprint Cup resumes track activities at Daytona on Wednesday, there's
going to be a lot of hype about Patrick, particularly her chances of winning
the Daytona 500 -- NASCAR's most prestigious race of the season. And she'll be
enjoying every minute of it.
"I love it when people put me on the radar, I do," Patrick said during her
post-qualifying news conference. "When people put you on the radar, that
feels good to me."
Patrick became the first woman to win a pole for a race in NASCAR's premier
series. Her Daytona 500 pole win didn't come as much of a surprise, as she
posted the fastest lap in Saturday's practice for qualifying. Patrick, who is
running a full Sprint Cup schedule this season as driver of the No. 10
Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, earned her maiden pole in just her 11th
"That's a huge accomplishment," said driver and team co-owner Tony Stewart,
who is a three-time Sprint Cup champion. "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
When Patrick made her Sprint Cup debut at Daytona one year ago, she started
29th and finished 38th. She was caught up in a multi-car wreck on the first
lap but managed to finish the race 64 laps off the pace.
The pole win for this year's Daytona 500 became the next item on Patrick's
list of accomplishments in her auto racing career. Before her foray into stock
car racing in 2010, Patrick had already become enormously popular and widely
marketable in the IndyCar Series.
In April 2008, Patrick became the first woman to win an IndyCar race when she
took the checkered flag at Motegi, Japan. She also holds the record for
highest finishing female in the Indianapolis 500 with a third-place run in
2009. Patrick is the only female to lead laps in the Indy 500 as well. She
finished fourth in that event during her 2005 IndyCar rookie season.
Last year, Patrick finished 10th in the Nationwide Series point standings,
making her the highest-finishing female in driver points for any one of
NASCAR's three national touring series. She also holds the record as the best
finisher for a woman in a NASCAR national touring race with a fourth-place run
in the 2011 Nationwide event at Las Vegas.
"I'm grateful for all those things," Patrick said. "I feel like, first and
foremost, I grew up with good values and good goals. I was brought up to be
the fastest driver, not the fastest girl. That was instilled in me from very
young, from the beginning.
"Then I feel like thriving in those moments where the pressure's on has also
been a help for me. 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.
"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."
Janet Guthrie held the record for highest starting position by a female in a
Sprint Cup race until Patrick won the pole for the Daytona 500. Guthrie
qualified ninth twice during the 1977 season (Talladega and Bristol). She also
had the previous best starting spot by a woman in the Daytona 500 with 18th in
Guthrie does hold the record for best finish by a female in the Daytona 500 --
11th in 1980.
Patrick's best finish in 10 Sprint Cup races is 17th, which came in November
at Phoenix. Tony Gibson took over crew chief duties for Patrick's No. 10 team
at the tail end of last season. When teams tested at Daytona for three days in
January, Patrick was continuously among the fastest, particularly in single-
"It's a tremendous feeling right now," Gibson said. "I'm just happy for my
team, and I'm happy for Danica. 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, we'll pick each other up and
get to the next one.
"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 has been in the spotlight a lot more than normal lately with her
relationship with Stenhouse, who is in his rookie season as driver of the No.
17 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing in Sprint Cup after winning the Nationwide
championship the past two years. The 30-year-old Patrick revealed last month
that she and Stenhouse, 25, are dating. And what a hot topic the two were on
Media Day at Daytona.
But Patrick's Daytona 500 pole win has overshadowed discussions about her love
life ... at least for now.
"I definitely think it's good for the team, for (sponsor) Go Daddy and for
NASCAR," she said. "It's good for the race itself. When they mention who is on
the pole, they're going to mention when the race is. That's good for the whole
"I don't mind answering questions about the other stuff. But I get that it's
not about racing. It's nice to change the tone of the questions because of
what's going on the track. That is a really good sign and I like that."
Patrick and Stenhouse will not be competing in the same twin-qualifying race
(Budweiser Duel) on Thursday at Daytona. She will start up front in the first
Duel, while he will line up sixth in the second one.
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