Danica Patrick on the Pole Saturday at Daytona

Danica Patrick on the Pole for Saturday’s Drive4COPD Race at Daytona 

Danica Patrick is on the pole for Saturday’s season-opening Nationwide Series race at Daytona (winning the pole means having the fastest qualifying lap).  In the first Gatorade Duel At Daytona, where drivers try to qualify for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, Danica walked away from a pretty violent crash.  In today’s race she turned it around!  Patrick won her first NASCAR pole and became the second woman to secure the top qualifying spot in Saturday’s Drive4COPD (first since Shawna Robinson at Atlanta on March 12, 1994.)

For Patrick, who has already won an IndyCar race, and currently has the highest finish ever for a female driver in the Nationwide Series with a fourth-place finish last March at Las Vegas, this is an important finish and not just from a historical perspective.  This is her first season as a full-time NASCAR driver, running a full season in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports and 10 Sprint Cup races for Haas-Newman Motorsports, including Sunday’s Daytona 500.

In today’s qualifier, she was the 35th of 50 drivers to make an attempt, and posted a lap at 182.741 mph.  She was faster than Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch, all of whom had been faster in practice.  Last year’s Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne (182.715 mph) qualified for the second spot and will start next to her on the front row.   Starting at third will be Elliott Sadler, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Austin Dillon.

Amidst a bit of controversy, Patrick, although new to the course, has automatically qualified and will have her Sprint Cup debut in Sunday’s Daytona 500.