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Danica Patrick captures Nationwide Series pole at Daytona

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff  February 24, 2012 03:40 PM

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick, who will make her Daytona 500 debut in Sunday's 54th running of the Great American Race, made some history today when she became the first woman driver to win a NASCAR pole at the 2.5-mile trioval at Daytona International Speedway with a fast lap of 182.741 miles per hour.

But Patrick was the second woman overall to win a pole at Daytona after Erin Crocker, of Wilbraham, Mass., captured the pole position for the 2007 ARCA Racing Series opener at Daytona. However, it came in an event not sanctioned by NASCAR.

It also marked the Patrick's first career NASCAR pole and second ever by a woman in the Nationwide Series after Shawna Robinson became the first to do so at Atlanta Motor Speedway March 10, 1994.

"I really don't think about it from a girls' perspective,'' Patrick said, referring to her place in the history books. "I've been taught from a young age to be the best driver ... not just the best girl.''

Patrick, who will compete full-time this season in the Nationwide Series in the No. 7 Chevorlet fielded by J.R. Motorsports owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., credited crew chief Tony Eury Jr. for helping her secure the pole for Saturday's Drive4COPD Nationwide Series opener at Daytona.

"I'm really thrilled for Tony, he's never, never had a pole here at Daytona and he's built some really good speedway cars,'' Patrick said. "Once it was over, I was on a mission to find him, because he was the most important one to thank, for sure, as well as all the guys who worked on the car with him.''

Patrick's clocked a lap of 49.250 seconds, which wound up being seven one-thousandths of a second faster than the lap posted by 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, who qualified second fastest in 49.257 seconds (182.715 m.p.h.).

"You can't think of two bigger names to have on the front row for tomorrow, to be honest with you,'' said Elliott Sadler, who qualified third fastest in 182.671 m.p.h. "With Trevor winning the 500 last year and Danica making her full-season debut here at Daytona.

"I think Danica, from her first ARCA race to now, especially the July 4th race here drafting, she was awesome, I thought she did a great job,'' Sadler said. ``So I think it's good for her and her team to come here and sit on the pole. You always want to come to Daytona and put your best foot forward.

"I definitely think it's a boost to her and her team,'' Sadler said. "Definitely a good start for her season.''

Said Bayne: "She's done a good job of holding her ground and holding her own here in the sport since she's got here. I think it's going to be a really good thing for her whole team. They've obviously done a good job with their cars and she did a good job in pole qualifying.''

Patrick's pole victory came 24 hours after she walked away from a frightening collision with the SAFER barrier on the last lap of Thursday's first Gatorade Duel.

Patrick was sent careening at full speed on the inside retaining wall after getting side-swiped by Aric Almirola's car, which had been jostled by Jamie McMurray's car, as they exited Turn 2. Patrick veered off track and made a heavy impact with the foam barrier on the right side that demolished her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, forcing her to go to a backup for the Daytona 500.

"I was thinking about how disappointing the end of the day was yesterday and how happy you can be 24 hours later,'' Patrick said. "It wasn't something that I wanted to have happen yesterday, but I got valuable practice time and it's never a good feeling for me not to be able to drive the car back to the pits. Something about it makes me feel guilty when the GoDaddy car is all broken up and in disarray.

"It needs to look pretty and it didn't,'' Patrick said. "So this was a good turn of events.''

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