SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It’s never been done before – Valley NASCAR driver Danica Patrick is the first woman in history to win the pole for the Daytona 500.
Winning the pole means Patrick will start Sunday’s Daytona 500 in the front spot. The annual Sprint Cup Series race is considered the Super Bowl of NASCAR.
Patrick’s lap speed of 196.434 mph was enough to make her the fastest woman in Daytona qualifier history. This year it was also enough to beat all the boys.
“I was brought up to be the fastest driver not just the fastest girl,” Patrick said in an interview after the qualifier.
Becoming the first woman to win the pole at Daytona isn't just historic for female competitors. Becca Gladden, a Valley-based writer for Motorsport Illustrated News, said sports and news outlets from around the world are covering this story.
“It's something that is historic,” Gladden said the day after Patrick won the pole. “I heard drivers yesterday saying they were happy just that they were in the field with her because this is a history-making event.”
NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon was one of those happy simply to be racing beside Patrick in Sunday’s Daytona 500, finishing second to Patrick in the pole. So inspired was the legendary driver that he had his daughter, Ella, pose for a picture with Patrick right after the qualifier.
“He said he wanted his daughter to know that girls can make it in the Sprint Cup Series,” Gladden said about the picture of Patrick and Ella Gordon.
The GoDaddy girl has long known and acknowledged her role in busting through gender bias and barriers.
"I've heard stories about a kid, a boy or a girl, saying, 'But Mommy, Daddy. That's a girl that's out there racing.' And then they can have that conversation to say, 'You can do anything you want to do and gender doesn't matter.' Your passion is what matters. And that's cool," Patrick said on Sunday.
Winning the pole at the Daytona 500 is like winning the coin toss at the Super Bowl – it’s a nice boost but by no means guarantees a win in the main event.
“The thing about Daytona is that qualifying is basically about keeping your foot on the mat and just holding it wide open on that 2.5-mile speedway,” said Gladden, noting that Patrick finished 38th in her 2012 Daytona 500 debut performance. “Not to take away from what she accomplished but the real indicator of how she does is going to be the race itself.”
Only nine of 54 drivers who've won the pole have gone on to win the race. Last time it happened was Dale Jarrett taking both prizes in 2000.