Danica Patrick takes her first NASCAR pole in Daytona Nationwide qualifying
|By Diego Mejia||Saturday, February 25th 2012, 08:38 GMT|
Danica Patrick bounced back from a heavy crash on her NASCAR Sprint Cup debut on Thursday to claim pole position for Saturday's Nationwide Series season opener at Daytona.
Driving the #7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, Patrick lapped the 2.5-mile oval in 49.250 seconds at an average speed of 182.741 mph, beating the previous benchmark set by former IndyCar rival, Penske's Sam Hornish Jr.
In the end Daytona 500 defending champion Trevor Bayne got closest to beating Patrick's time, trailing her by only seven thousandths of a second at the wheel of a Roush Fenway Ford.
Patrick's pole position is her fourth in a major racing series, having claimed three back in 2005 during her debut IndyCar season.
It also marks the second time a woman has started on pole in a NASCAR National touring series race, the first being Shawna Robinson back in March 1994 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, in what was then known as the Busch Series.
Although Patrick downplayed her role in getting pole at Daytona, calling it a "straightforward" effort, she believes it will earn her some status for Saturday's race where tandem-drafting is expected to be crucial.
"I think anytime you show that you have a fast car is encouraging for people to want to help you," said Patrick . "You always want to be with the fastest cars possible. We'll see how it works out in the Nationwide race because it seems there's a lot of bump-drafting but if I'm left alone somebody's going to think 'Oh, I'm going to hook up with that fast car'.
"I think that starts to earn you some respect and some credibility because people want to work with you. Then my job is to show them that I'm good to work with."
Earlier on Friday Patrick practiced with the back-up car she will drive in the Daytona 500, following her last lap crash in the duel qualifying race on Thursday. She will start the Daytona 500 from the back of the field.
Patrick's Cup series boss Tony Stewart, who has won six out of the last seven Nationwide season openers at Daytona, will start from seventh on Saturday.