Danica Patrick makes NASCAR history
Conspiracy theorists have predicted all week that the NASCAR timing and scoring computers would be preprogrammed to put Danica Patrick on the pole, but they have no facts to back up their claims. It does however, appear to be quite a coincidence given she ran very few practice laps.
With her romance with fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Ricky Stenhouse making headlines everywhere, the poll position can help propel TV ratings and ticket sales. She was the first woman ever to win the Daytona 500 pole.
As Darrell Waltrip said, "this is a big deal. She has been in many Super Bowl commercials and is so well known outside the sport. This will give our sport international attention."
Patrick’s qualifying time of 45.817 seconds positioned her atop the leaderboard early in the day and her top speed of 196.434 mph is the fastest Daytona 500 qualifying speed since Ken Schrader’s Chevrolet topped out at 196.515 in 1990. The driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet also becomes the first Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate to win the Daytona 500 pole since Jimmie Johnson in 2002.
Prior to Sunday, there had been just two Coors Light Poles earned by a woman, Patrick last year at Daytona and Shawna Robinson in Atlanta in 1994, both of which came in NASCAR Nationwide Series competition. This will be the best starting position for a female in Sprint Cup history, eclipsing Janet Guthrie’s starting position of ninth at Talladega and Bristol, both in 1977. In 1980, Guthrie started 18th in the Daytona 500, formerly the best start for a woman in Daytona 500 history. She finished 11th in that race.
Patrick’s SHR teammates Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart rounded out the top-five, with the 2008 Daytona 500 winner Newman coming in at 45.931 (195.946) and the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion Stewart finishing in 45.936 with a top speed of 195.925.
Matt Kenseth, winner of the 2012 Daytona 500, placed 10th on Sunday with a time of 45.983 (195.725) in the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota for his new home, Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I think that says a lot about the team, a lot about Stewart-Haas Racing, a lot about how much work was done over the winter and how they’ve adapted to the new car,” said Patrick. “This is very much a team pole.”
The Generation-6 cars continue to impress, as 22 drivers topped 195 mph. Before Sunday, the last driver to hit that mark in Daytona 500 qualifying was Jeff Gordon (195.067) in 1999. Before that, you have to go back to Davey Allison (195.955) in 1991.
This is Patrick’s second NASCAR pole, also winning the Coors Light Pole for the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona last season. The only other female to win a NASCAR national series pole was Shawna Robinson in a NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1994.
DANICA PATRICK and Crew Chief TONY GIBSON
KERRY THARP: We have our Coors Light pole winner for the 55th running of the Daytona 500, Danica Patrick. She's joined by her crew chief Tony Gibson.
Danica, congratulations on just a superior effort out there today. I know the team worked extremely hard. Certainly history in the making. You've also qualified for the 2014 Sprint Unlimited.
DANICA PATRICK: That's right.
TONY GIBSON: One more car I have to build (laughter).
KERRY THARP: What does it mean to be the polesitter, know that you're going to be leading the pack a week from today for the most famous race in stockcar?
DANICA PATRICK: Thanks a lot. You just made me feel nervous right there. I'm supposed to be excited and relieved today. I feel like a broken record. I probably will feel even more so by the end of the day after all my interviews.
But I appreciate the recognition, but it really falls, as I think I said before I went out on the track, 90% on Tony and his guys, everybody that gives me the car to go out there and be fast, and maybe 10% on me.
All I have to do is think about going out there, being smooth, not letting the car bind up, running on that yellow line. Outside of that, I think it shows how well-prepared Tony and everybody was, how strong the Hendrick engines are, how good the new Chevy SS is. We've been fast since practice in January.
Last year I was pretty decent in practice and came for the race and it wasn't the same situation. This year it continued. I think that just shows how well-prepared they all have been, how hard they've worked over the winter.
It's really amazing how much effort is put into a qualifying car for Daytona, for the 500, and really only the front row is what sticks for Sunday. It's nice that all that hard work can pay off and that we can give ourselves that opportunity to lead the pack down into the tri-oval for the green flag of the Daytona 500.
KERRY THARP: Tony Gibson, congratulations. Certainly a big day for this race team and the entire Stewart-Haas organization. Just talk a little bit about the performance of the No. 10 team, the significance of getting this pole here today.
TONY GIBSON: It's a team effort. Like I told Danica, it's more than 10% driver. I was talking to David Green on the line, about five cars away. He's just like, Remind her hit her shifter. I've messed up and overshifted and messed the lap up. It's more than 10% because you can put a good product out there, but if you don't have the person to drive it, put everything else together, it can really damage your day.
We just gave her a product that was really good and she took it the rest of the way. It's more than 10%, I promise you. It's 50/50.
I'm proud of her. I know there was a lot of pressure on her to come here and qualify well, in the top six, to lock us in. I'm proud of her to carry that weight on her shoulders. She didn't falter. She did everything right. She hit her marks, hit her marks on the shifts, and here we are.
It's a big deal for me, for sure, personally. I've been knocked off these front rows several times by just a little bit. It's really nice to come here and get it done, especially for the Daytona 500, my hometown. It's a big deal.
DANICA PATRICK: This is your hometown?
TONY GIBSON: I was born in the hospital right across the street.
DANICA PATRICK: Your mom making us dinner tonight?
TONY GIBSON: Mom and dad went to the tractor show (laughter). My wife took my grandmother shopping, so she's worn out.
DANICA PATRICK: I'll make dinner if she'll make the monkey bread. Deal?
TONY GIBSON: Deal (laughter).
Q. Danica, Jeff Gordon was just in here saying that even for a guy that's been in the sport for 20 years, it's hard sometimes not to go into protect mode when you're on the front row. How do you maintain the aggressive attitude that you need to get through the Duels and practice and get to the 500?
DANICA PATRICK: I have no idea. Tony, what am I supposed to do?
TONY GIBSON: Don't put yourself in any bad positions.
For her, it is new. You don't want to take the chance of wrecking the car, nobody does. Sometimes there's nothing you can do about it.
She's going to have to put herself three-wide, four-wide, there's no way around it. If we tear it up, we tear it up. We have another one on the truck.
You can't run scared all the time. She's going to have to get out there and race. Definitely we're not going to put ourselves in very bad positions. If it looks like it's getting hairy, she can get out, go to the back and ride. We're in a position to do that.
She needs to get out there just like every driver here. The Gen-6 car is new. The Chevy SS is really fast, won last night. Even the guys that ran last night still don't have the answers. There's still a lot of things that are not answered. She's going to have to get out there and let us know what we got to do to make the car comfortable for her, two-wide, three-wide, whatever it takes.
Q. Danica, another of your moments at the brink of history, May of 2005, quickest at practice, everybody is anticipating you win the pole. You catch a gust of wind at one, end up qualifying fourth. People were talking about gusts of wind today. Were you okay with that or did you have to battle some puffs out there?
DANICA PATRICK: Everything seemed pretty smooth. I didn't notice anything that threw me offline or made me move. The car moves around through the corner a little bit. It's hard to keep a perfect arc so you don't hit the apron.
Coming off of two, I felt like the car felt bound up. I let it out a little bit more than I would have. If that was wind, I don't know. But that was something that felt a little bit different compared to yesterday.
But I think ultimately at the end of the day, too, everything happens for a reason. In fact, I thought about Indy '05, thought about how I was the favorite to win the pole going in. I thought, you know what, maybe I wasn't ready. Maybe my life would have changed and been different because of that happening or whatever. I just feel like I'm comfortable, I'm cool. I've been around for a long time now. Maybe now was the time.
Q. Launched off of that Indy of '05, with the Ricky stuff this past week, and this.
DANICA PATRICK: There's a lot going on.
Q. Because of all you've been through, the stage you've had, is the limelight really your comfort zone? Are you maybe at your greatest comfort zone when there's a whole bunch of stuff like this going on around you?
DANICA PATRICK: You've been writing about me for a long time. I think that's a perceptive observation. I think when pressure's on, when the spotlight is on, I do feel like it ultimately ends up becoming some of my better moments, better races, better results.
I don't know why that is. I'm grateful for it because the opposite of that would be I'm guessing I probably wouldn't be here today, and I wouldn't be in the position I'm in.
I guess thanks Mom and Dad for the genetics, thank you for all that. I just understand if you put the hard work in before you go out there that you can have a little bit of peace of mind knowing you've done everything you can, and just let it happen.
Q. You've had so many significant historical things. You've come through every time.
DANICA PATRICK: Makes me sound kind of old.
Q. In your short career, how about that, you've had all these different things. You're about to embark on a week where you're going to get a ton of attention.
DANICA PATRICK: What am I going to have to do? Go places? I told them, I get Monday and Tuesday off. I need to recoup.
Q. Do you really think you're going to get Monday and Tuesday off now?
DANICA PATRICK: I better (laughter). Don't be scheming over there. I feel a scheme coming on over there. I'll be the young rookie, it's okay.
Q. Can you speak about all these various things you've been able to accomplish.
DANICA PATRICK: Thank you and I'm grateful for all those things. 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.
Q. You talked a little bit about fate earlier, what's meant to be. A lot of times you're not in control of what happens, particularly at Daytona. What is your game plan?
DANICA PATRICK: Jesus, take the wheel. Serious. Go ahead, sorry. It is Sunday and I didn't go to church today, so...
Q. What is the game plan then since sometimes you really don't control your destiny here?
DANICA PATRICK: And I think that's part of the lure of the Daytona 500 and races like this. There's a lot of people that get a little taste of success or potentially getting to Victory Lane. That's what keeps us coming back for more. I always feel that was what was special about Indy. There's so many pit stops, so much that could happen, so many ways that it could play out, there's a lot of drivers that taste victory but don't get there. You just have a love for it. Not to mention that it's the biggest race of the year.
Q. (No microphone.)
DANICA PATRICK: It got a little crazy. I mean, I think I expected it to be even more crazy. Didn't seem like the cars got unhooked easy. That was a good save by Tony. That's what I remember about last night. Unfortunately there was a little accordion effect.
We're going to do everything we can. I understand my position. I have a good car. Tony has given me a good car. I'm going to do my best to keep it clean, keep it out of trouble, get a feel for the traffic throughout the day, and hopefully put myself in a position, position-wise and knowledge-wise, to do a good job and bring it home where it started at the end of Sunday.
But I have a lot to learn, too. I understand that. I mean, I have Jeff Gordon starting next to me. I have, oh, my God, a herd of them behind me. I'm a rookie and I am going to be learning as much as I can for 499 or maybe till the last 10 laps. When you implement your plan, it depends where you are. Hopefully at the end of 500 we're rolling and we have a chance.
Q. Has the significance of what you did, which is make history, has that really sunk in yet? What kind of message would you like that to be to young racers, female racers, coming up? As a follow-up, what are you fixing for dinner?
DANICA PATRICK: I'm not fixing anything tonight. In fact, I'm probably going to have some beers. I think somebody is making me a sandwich. I went to Cracker Barrel and I'm glad I ate the bacon because it's probably what is keeping me alive right now. And the pole position, too. I need a sandwich really bad. I'm getting close to dinner anyway. Pole position was like a free diet.
What was the first part of your question? That one was much more fun to answer.
Q. Has the significance of what you've done sunk in?
DANICA PATRICK: I mean, I've had the experience with mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, listening to them say the reason why they're here as a family today is because of me out there, whether it brings the girls out, the guys out, whatever it is, I don't care. That's nice to hear.
It's also nice to hear families talk about the fact that a little girl might say, But, mommy, daddy, that's a girl out there. Then they can have the conversation with their kid about you can do anything you want and being different doesn't by any means not allow you to follow your dreams. I love to think that conversation happens in households because of something I'm doing.
Q. Where does this rank among your career accomplishments?
TONY GIBSON: Pretty high up. My wife asked me that same question. I've been fortunate enough to win a lot of races, the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, some championships and stuff. But this is really, really high for me because I feel for some reason we're the underdogs. When we won a championship with Kulwicki, we went into that race with nobody giving us a shot.
When we left testing down here, I knew we had a shot. You still never know. I told Danica, bring back the same car. I could tell she was a little nervous when I told her that. I was nervous, too. But to come back here and pick up where we left off testing, to run good yesterday, you still have that little bit of nervousness of can you repeat what you ran yesterday in practice after you go through the room of doom and all that.
DANICA PATRICK: I love that, room and doom.
TONY GIBSON: To get all that accomplished, come down here, it means a lot to me. It's a tremendous feeling right now. I'm just happy for my team. I'm happy for Danica. Like we talked after all this, 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, 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.
DANICA PATRICK: Big accomplishment to be a part of for me. So much that goes into it than just the driver.
As I told Tony, I said, I'm going to keep pounding this one home, I said, You built a fast car and I'm just lucky I got to drive it. So we're going to enjoy this pole and we're going to get to enjoy it for a week. But it definitely ranks very high.
Q. You're such a cool customer under pressure, yet you admittedly had some nerves. Where did they stem from today? You blazed so many trails in motorsports, how does this compare to your other accomplishments?
DANICA PATRICK: I was literally listening to you going, Nerves, nerves.
You know, nerves today were really just about I feel more nervous when I know that there's more on the line, and I knew that we had a good enough car to qualify very well around the pole today. So for me it was just don't make a stupid little mistake, don't hit the apron, don't use too much road, all the way up against the wall around the outside. Little things like that.
If we weren't in contention, you don't think about it that much. Knowing it can come down to a hundredth, a driver can make that difference. That's where you hope you've done everything right. That was my nerves.
Q. Comparison to leading a lap at Indy and winning Motegi?
DANICA PATRICK: This is a pretty big stage. There's a lot of people that benefit from this and a lot of people see it. I feel like there's a lot of people win more so than ever with this one as far as the team, Tony, Go Daddy, Hendrick, Chevy. There's a lot of people that benefit from this because of the big platform that it is. It's not just like the high point of my name or what I've done. There's going to be a whole story here.
It's a cool day. I've been lucky enough and very blessed in my career to have had a lot of really, really cool days, a lot of things that in 20 years - got to be careful here - in a really long time I can reflect on and be very grateful. I was going to say when I'm old and decrepit.
My dad said he was going to show up with a lot more gray hairs when qualifying is over with. My hairstylist the other day said he saw one. I cried a little (laughter).
Q. You've seen a lot in your career, so this might be hard to answer. This was obviously a big deal with the way it was received after you were on the pole. You had Mike Helton come up and congratulate you. You tend to downplay the significance, racer first, woman second. Was there a moment that felt surreal to you, Wow, this is happening?
DANICA PATRICK: I think some of the coolest feeling was just being able to go into qualifying.
I love it when people put me on the radar, I do. I think it's good. It's a confidence boost when people are saying, I heard Mr. Childress say he thought I was the one to lose the pole. When people put you on the radar, that feels good to me.
I like that after practice in January and yesterday after practice that people were saying I was the one that could go out there and get the pole. That to me was some of the coolest feelings.
Today was about executing and doing everything right, just having a clean run. So, I don't know, that's kind of what feels best to me. It was a little too nervous to sit on the pole throughout the whole thing. Watching all those cars, that's nerve-wracking, especially on an empty stomach. What did I decide to do? I decided to go workout. I mean, really? I'm old enough to know better (smiling).
Q. After three days of the romance, romance talk, is it refreshing or does it matter at all to you now the reset button gets hit and everybody is now going to be talking about you, the racer, the driver?
DANICA PATRICK: I definitely think it's good for the team and it's good for Go Daddy, it's good for NASCAR. 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.
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 on the track. That is a really good sign and I like that.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations, Danica Patrick and Tony Gibson. Thank you.
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