She was wildly-popularly fast.
She was game-changing fast.
She was historically fast.
The woman known for starring in a record 12 Super Bowl commercials forever now will be known as the first woman to win a pole position for a Sprint Cup Series race in NASCAR.
And not just for any race, the Daytona 500.
The moment she climbed from her Chevrolet, she set into motion a wave of worldwide attention that will grow leading up to next Sunday’s race.
“I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl,” she said after a fast lap of 196.434 mph. “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.”
Patrick refused to take a lot of the credit, saying her Stewart-Haas Racing team, including crew chief Tony Gibson, gave her the best car in the garage. She said her contribution was 10 percent.
Gibson quickly disagreed.
“We just gave her a product that was really good and she took it the rest of the way,” Gibson said. “It’s more than 10 percent, I promise you. It’s 50-50.
“It’s a big deal.”
NASCAR was hoping to re-energize its fan base with its sixth generation race car that brought back manufacturer identity. The new car created some buzz leading into Sunday’s time trials, but Patrick created a whole new level of interest in stock car racing that will beyond the sports page.
Perhaps sensing the moment could create a record level of interest in next Sunday’s race at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR president Mike Helton was one of the first in Victory Lane after qualifying to give Patrick a hug.
“I definitely think it’s good for the team and it’s good for Go Daddy; it’s good for NASCAR,” Patrick 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 sport.”
Another visitor to Victory Lane was Jeff Gordon. Like Helton, he gave Patrick a hug. But on Sunday, he will line up beside her with hopes of winning his fourth Daytona 500.
But for now, he’s like everyone else – along for the ride.
“She comes into this with racing background, with a tremendous amount of exposure, momentum, just popularity that we’ve never seen before, especially for a female driver,” Gordon said. “I’m glad I didn’t win the pole; we would have messed that story all up.
“I’ve always been a big believer in what’s good for the sport is good for all of us. So this is great for the sport. The rest of us will benefit from it as well. I’m proud to be on the front row this year side-by-side with Danica.”
Gordon ran 196.292 mph.
Trevor Bayne was third at 195.976, while Ryan Newman was fourth at 195.946, Tony Stewart was fifth at 195.925, Kasey Kahne was sixth at 195.852, Denny Hamlin was seventh at 195.771, Kyle Busch was eighth at 195.767, Joey Logano was ninth at 195.767 and Matt Kenseth was 10th at 195.725.
Qualifying locked the front row for next Sunday’s race. Bayne, Newman, Stewart and Kahne also earned a guaranteed spot since they automatically will advance to the main event with the four fastest speeds even if they don’t finish one of the 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday.
Sunday’s results also set the field for the qualifiers. Patrick and Bayne will be on the front row for the first heat race, while Gordon and Newman will be up front for the second 150-mile race.
Patrick ran a limited Sprint Cup Series schedule a year ago and will contend for rookie of the year this season. She also will run selected Nationwide Series races after winning a pole at Daytona a year ago and finishing 10th in the driver championship.
Janet Guthrie held the record for the highest-starting woman in a Sprint Cup Series race by qualifying ninth for two different races in 1977.
The Sprint Cup garage is closed today and Tuesday. Drivers will return Wednesday to get ready for the 150-mile qualifiers.