DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Danica Patrick finally was able to talk about her race car Saturday instead of her new boyfriend.
After spending two days trying to change the conversation away from her new relationship with fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Patrick created different talking points by posting the fastest lap in preparation for today’s Daytona 500 pole qualifying.
At 196.220 mph, Patrick’s car became the new focus of attention.
“I suppose being the fastest going into qualifying is as good as you could hope for,” she said. “But I also understand that it’s a whole different day. We have done everything we can to prepare for it. We all feel pretty confident, but (today) is a different day.”
Patrick’s Chevrolet was third-quickest in the morning practice and clearly the best in the final session. Joey Logano was second overall at 195.410 mph, followed by Austin Dillon in third at 195.380, Tony Stewart in fourth at 195.363 and Kyle Busch in fifth at 195.342.
Pole qualifying today will lock in the front row for next Sunday’s Daytona 500. Everyone else will have to race their way into the starting lineup in one of two 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday.
Unlike a year ago, Patrick doesn’t have an automatic exemption into the Daytona 500 field. She must drive her way into the race.
“Everything that we do is to make sure that we do whatever we can to be on the pole (today),” Patrick said. “That is all we are shooting for. As I said earlier, (today) is a whole other day. You’ve got to hope that the weather stays very consistent or perhaps better at the beginning when I’m going to go than at the end. All of those things come into play.”
The qualifying order was determined by a blind drawing. Stewart will be the first off the line, while Patrick
Patrick will run for Stewart-Haas Racing in the Sprint Cup Series. Her biggest competition for the rookie title will be Stenhouse, who will drive the No. 17 Ford at Roush Fenway Racing.
He was 24th in the final practice.
Patrick won the pole at Daytona a year ago for the Nationwide Series race, joining Shawn Robinson in that series as the only women in NASCAR to win any pole.
For Patrick being able to change the conversation to the race car was just as important.
“I think being fastest on the chart, just being fast in general shows everyone else how dead serious (crew chief) Tony Gibson is with his guys and how he wants poles,” Patrick said. “He was to give me the fastest car possible. He is doing absolutely everything he can and is putting so much work into it. I think this just shows his confidence in everyone, including myself, about what we can do.”
After qualifying is completed, the cars will remain locked up at the track until the garage re-opens on Wednesday for practice.