Danica Patrick takes historic pole position for Daytona 500

By Steve Almasy and Mark Morgenstein, CNN | 2/18/2013, 7:59 p.m.
She says she was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl.
Danica Patrick has made racing history, becoming the first woman in the history of NASCAR to win the pole for any race. Here, Patrick sits in her car during practice for the AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in 2012 in Avondale, Arizona. This slide show looks back at Patrick's exciting career through the years.

She says she was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl.

None of the boys were faster on Sunday.

Danica Patrick became the first woman to win the pole position for the Daytona 500, considered the Super Bowl of NASCAR, posting a lap of 196.434 mph.

She'll start next Sunday's "Great American Race" in the front row, on the inside part of the track. The polesitter begins the race with certain strategic advantages as well as the prestige of leading an elite pack.

What is poll position?

Becoming the first woman to win a pole at any NASCAR top-division race is another milestone for a racer known for breaking barriers.

"I've heard stories about a kid, a boy or a girl, saying, 'But mommy, daddy. That's a girl that's out there racing.' And then they can have that conversation to say, 'You can do anything you want to do and gender doesn't matter.' Your passion is what matters. And that's cool," Patrick told CNN's Don Lemon on Sunday.

"When the pressure is on and when the spotlight is on, they ultimately become some of my better moments," she said earlier.

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Patrick, who was the favorite to win the pole, said she felt some nerves because of the high expectations.

"I feel more nervous when there is more on the line," she said. "It was, 'Just don't make a stupid mistake.'"

She said that driving a qualifying lap at Daytona, where drivers shift gears three times then run the engine pretty much wide open, was 90% crew preparation and 10% driver.

Not so, said her crew chief, Tony Gibson, who said it's an even split.

"I'm proud of her. She didn't falter," he said.

She will start her No. 10 GODADDY Chevrolet in the front row next week alongside Jeff Gordon, who ran a lap at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway at 196.292 mph in his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet.

"She runs so smooth, keeps such a smooth line and that's what you have to do to carry speed here," co-car owner and fellow driver Tony Stewart said.

A pole position does not guarantee success.

Only nine of the pole winners in the first 54 Daytona 500s won the race and no one has earned both victories since Dale Jarrett in 2000, NASCAR spokesman Scott Warfield said.

The rest of the field will be set in two qualifying races scheduled for Thursday.

Patrick and Gordon are guaranteed two of the 43 slots in the final lineup. But they go to the back of the pack if they wreck their cars in the qualifiers, or at any time before Sunday's race, and have to switch to a backup car, Warfield said.

Patrick, 30, is in her first full year as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. Last year she made 10 Sprint Cup starts, qualifying no better than 23rd.