The former IndyCar star won the pole Friday for the season-opening Nationwide Series race at Daytona, becoming the first woman to secure the top qualifying spot in NASCAR’s second-tier series since Shawna Robinson at Atlanta on March 12, 1994.
It came a day after she wrecked on the final lap of a qualifying race for the Daytona 500.
“It’s a good turn of events,” she said.
It also set off a flurry of Twitter traffic that included words such as “Dansanity,” “Danimosity,” “Danimite,” and “Dantastic.”
“I really don’t think about it from a girl perspective,” she said with her proud parents standing a few yards away. “I’ve been taught from a young age to want to be the best driver. … It was about being the best driver and not the best girl.”
Patrick won just once in 115 IndyCar starts. She had seven podium finishes, and two of them came when she began dabbling in NASCAR two seasons ago. She moved to NASCAR full time this season, and is scheduled to drive 10 Sprint Cup races for Stewart-Haas Racing and run every Nationwide race for JR Motorsports.
She will make her Sprint Cup debut in the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
The Nationwide race is Saturday. She has three top-10 finishes in 25 Nationwide races over two years.
She has felt some pressure since leaving open wheel for stock-car racing. And now, after securing the pole, everything has been ratcheted up a notch.
“When you sit on the pole, you’re the fastest car, so if you don’t win the race, then I just wasted the fastest car,” she said. “So, yes, it adds a lot of pressure and I now feel nervous. Thanks a lot, pole position. You’ve made me nervous already, but it’s a good problem to have and I don’t mind being nervous.
“It tends to bring out some good things in me, so I’m not bothered by that. But expectations, sure, yeah, anybody who sits on the pole is going to expected to do well because they obviously have a good car.”
Patrick turned a fast lap of 49.250 seconds around the high-banked speedway, averaging 182.741 mph.
Defending Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne qualified second, followed by Elliott Sadler, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Austin Dillon.
And there was little, if any, animosity about the qualifying results — err, Danimosity.
“I think it’s got a good shot for No. 1 on SportsCenter,” Bayne said. “That’s always good for our sport. We look for these kinds of moments. NASCAR keeps talking about star power, and these are the kinds of moments that are going to help our whole sport. Not just Danica or our team, but our whole sport. The more eyeballs, it’s all better for us. … Even though we’re just a second-place guy at this point, it’s really cool. I think it is good all the way around.”
Sadler was equally complimentary, but made it clear that results will matter more than poles.
“This is good for the sport,” Sadler said. “It’s going to bring more people, more attention. All the attention she’s getting, she still has to race. It’s cool the extra attention she’s bringing, but that won’t give her one extra point at all. It’s just going to bring a lot of attention to the sport.”
Patrick was trending on Twitter after earning the pole, no surprise since she’s somewhat of a polarizing figure in the auto racing world. Some question her talent. Others believe she gets way too much attention because of her good looks and those sultry television commercials for sponsor GoDaddy.com.
She can mute most of that with early success.
And it will start at the front of the pack Saturday.
“That’s so cool for her to start off the season that way,” Bayne said. “She’s looking for that boost, and that’s a good kick in the butt right there to be on the pole for the first race of the season. That’s the momentum you need to build on. It’s going to take those kinds of moments to build up her confidence. She’s done a good job of holding her own here.”