Danica Patrick has become the first woman to claim pole position for a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, qualifying fastest for the iconic Daytona 500 in her brand-new Chevrolet SS racecar.
Patrick hit a top speed of 196.434mph (316.130km/h) in her bright green No. 10 Go Daddy Chevrolet SS in Sunday’s two-lap qualifying session to put her at the head of the field for this weekend’s opening round of the NASCAR season at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida.
The Stewart-Hass Racing team driver’s pole position is the best qualifying performance by a female in the top tier of the NASCAR championship, eclipsing Janet Guthrie’s starting position of ninth back in 1977.
Patrick’s qualifying speed was the quickest recorded at Daytona in 23 years, and made her the first Rookie of the Year candidate to claim pole at the circuit since Jimmie Johnson in 2002.
Patrick told CNN the result was another step towards breaking down barriers in a male-dominated sport.
“I’ve heard stories about a kid, a boy or a girl, saying, ‘But mummy, daddy, that’s a girl that’s out there racing’,” she said.
“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’s pole position matches her Daytona qualifying performance in last year’s second-tier Nationwide Series, although she plans to improve on her 38th-place finish from that race this weekend.