Patrick first woman to take pole for Daytona 500

Sun Feb 17, 2013 6:34pm EST
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(Reuters) - Danica Patrick will start from the Daytona 500 pole position after posting the fastest qualifying speed for the Great American Race on Sunday and becoming the first woman to take the pole for a NASCAR Sprint Cup event.

Patrick, who ran a partial Sprint Cup program last year, signaled she was ready to race full-time against the big boys of American stock car racing by clocking 196.434 mph around Daytona International Speedway.

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon joined Patrick on the front row for next Sunday's race, joking afterwards that he was at least the fastest man.

Patrick's top speed was the fastest qualifying effort at Daytona since 1990.

"I'm just the driver, this is a team pole," she told reporters after her qualifying effort. "I was a little bit nervous.

"It would definitely be a high point memory. I think Daytona has such a legendary following."

The remainder of the 500 field will be set in a pair of qualifying races scheduled for Thursday.

The qualifying triumph marked another in a growing list of firsts for Patrick, who became the only woman to win an IndyCar race in 2008 before jumping to NASCAR, the United States' most popular motor sports series.

Janet Guthrie had the previous best qualifying performance by a woman when she qualified ninth for Cup races at Talladega and Bristol speedways in 1977.   Continued...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick, of the number 10 car, waves to the crowd as she makes her way into victory lane to celebrate securing the pole position for the upcoming Daytona 500, with fellow Sprint Cup driver and inside pole winner Jeff Gordon, of the number 24 car, during qualifying for the Daytona 500, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, February 17, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Blanco