Danica Patrick Makes NASCAR History

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Danica Patrick topped qualifying for the Daytona 500 on Sunday; she became the first woman to earn pole position.
Corbis

Danica Patrick topped qualifying for the Daytona 500 on Sunday; she became the first woman to earn pole position for one of the hugely popular NASCAR stock car racing's elite events.

A day after she notched the fastest overall practice lap, Patrick circled the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway in 45.817sec, averaging 196.434 miles per hour, to seize the pole for the Feb. 24 season opener of NASCAR's Sprint Cup series.

Patrick, 30, competed in 10 races in the series last year, after making the jump from the IndyCar open-wheel racing series.

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Patrick, who spent five seasons on the Andretti team, became one of IndyCar's signature racers after becoming the first woman to win a series race by capturing the 2008 event at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi.

In 2005, she became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500, thanks to a refuel strategy, and in 2009 she reached the Indy 500 podium with a third-place showing.

Last season, Patrick finished 10th in NASCAR's second-rung Nationwide series, and she won pole for the Nationwide race at Daytona last year.

But the highest a woman had ever qualified for a top-flight NASCAR race was ninth -- achieved by Janet Guthrie at Bristol and Talladega in 1977.

Jeff Gordon will start alongside Patrick on the front row of the grid. Gordon, a three-time winner of the prestigious Daytona race, averaged 196.292 mph to claim the fourth front-row spot on the Daytona 500 grid of his career.

Patrick and Gordon are the only drivers who have secured their starting positions.

The rest of the 43-car grid will be set on Thursday.