Danica Patrick - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
The 29-year-old from Roscoe, Illinois has been practicing for her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the 54th Daytona 500, competing in the Gatorade Duels, practicing, qualifying and racing in the Drive4COPD 300 NASCAR Nationwide race on Saturday and she'll race in the 500 on Sunday.
In the midst of all this, Patrick suffered the hardest hit of her racing career on Thursday afternoon when she was hit while side-drafting on the final lap of the first Duel and propelled head-first into the backstretch SAFER barrier.
Those accommodating walls likely saved her life and kept NASCAR from a public relations debacle. She climbed from her stricken No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet and, while certainly sore, practiced her backup Cup car, practiced and qualified her No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevy Nationwide car--and landed the pole position for Saturday's Nationwide race.
In her open wheel career, Danica Patrick has been an excellent qualifier and has excelled in putting together a pair of laps on the ovals where Indy cars race. In taking this pole she became the second woman to earn the top spot in NASCAR Nationwide competition--Shawna Robinson took the pole at Atlanta in 1994 to be the first.
Patrick, as expected, was operating on pure adrenaline in making this accomplishment. After her disappointing Duel finish on Thursday, less than 24 hours later she was ecstatic.
"This was a good turn of events," she said. "Mostly I'm happy for Tony [Eury Jr, her Nationwide crew chief]. Whenever you're fast at places like this people want to work with you, so I'm hoping this [pace] opens up some possibilities."
Patrick gave her Nationwide crew all the credit for her quick pace. "From a driver's perspective, qualifying here is pretty straightforward. I talked with Tony Jr and really, really, really wanted to win the pole because he's never been on pole before at Daytona. Tony said to tell you that the car would have been 12th to 14th if I weren't driving it, but I'm telling you, those guys did a great job. I'm really pleased to push the pedals for Tony Jr and to get the job done."
Patrick was the 35th driver to take timed laps, which a total of 50 drivers vying for spots in the Nationwide race. She'll start alongside Trevor Bayne, last year's Daytona 500 rookie winner. Elliott Sadler is third and Earnhardt Jr starts fourth with rookie Austin Dillon in fifth. This is Patrick's 26th Nationwide start after part-time ventures with JR Motorsports over the past two seasons; this is her first pole in four races at Daytona.