It may have been only two laps, but they were laps that were history making at Daytona International Speedway.
Danica Patrick, who once made her claim to fame in the open wheel ranks (as well as with her Go Daddy ads), took the pole position on Sunday, nabbing the number one starting spot for the Daytona 500. Her lap of 196.434 mph set the standard for the afternoon, which came early in the pole session.
History, or in this case, "her-story," was certainly made at The World Center of Racing, as Patrick became the first woman to win a pole position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' 65 year history.
Driving a relatively smooth second lap along the inside line, Patrick drove her Chevy as if it was shot out of a cannon along the backstretch. Always the congenial and outgoing type, she relished her groundbreaking moment with ease and confidence, deflecting credit of her history making accomplishment by acknowledging her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing crew at the track and the shop.
"We have a lot more history to make and we're eager to do it," Patrick said following her pole-qualifying effort. Of course, that piece of history would be to win the Daytona 500, which would make Patrick the first ever woman to win a NASCAR points-paying race.
Surely, Patrick's historic accomplishment will dominate the storylines at Daytona for the foreseeable week but it's warranted. An incredible accomplishment for any driver to add to their portfolio, it's even more significant that Patrick's pole run happened at Daytona. Only three other rookie drivers have accomplished this feat (Loy Allen, Jr. in 1994, Mike Skinner in '97, and Jimmie Johnson '02).
In order for Patrick and her Go Daddy team to even focus solely on winning "The Great American Race," she must get through each practice session and Thursday's Budweiser Duels race in one piece, as well as preserving her equipment all week long to ensure she starts first. As a rookie driver, laps around this track alone are quite the experience, but drafting in big packs is absolutely valuable.
Jeff Gordon gave Patrick a run for her money late in the qualifying session, coming just a tad short with his outside qualifying speed of 196.292 mph. It was a relatively surprising fast lap for Gordon and his No. 24 team, as they encountered some problems before their qualifying round effort. His car fell off a jack, which damaged their machine enough to warrant some repairs. Still, the three-time Daytona 500 champs were able to rebound from their mishap and put together a solid outside pole result.
"It's great to be a part of history," Gordon said. Then with a smile, he added, "I can say I was the fastest guy today."
Certainly, Gordon was the fastest man on Sunday, but it was Patrick who was the overall fastest driver at Daytona. However, both racers not only locked themselves into the front row (and guaranteed themselves the opportunity to start in the Daytona 500), but they were the only two to top the 196 mph speed barrier.
A win next Sunday for Gordon and his No. 24 AARP Drive to End Hunger Chevy team would be quite important, as it would be the four-time Cup champ's 88th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win in his 21st season.
Trevor Bayne, who won this event in 2011, turned in the third fastest overall lap at 195.976 mph, while Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-10.
Other notable runs were Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (11th), Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (12th), Austin Dillon (16th), Jimmie Johnson (23rd), Brad Keselowski (25th), and Kurt Busch (33rd).
While the sun has set at Daytona Beach and the competitors unwind following a productive weekend with their 500-mile race chariots, somewhere near the massive speedway, Patrick and her team are absolutely enjoying their amazing accomplishment for the record books and perhaps even the national spotlight.