Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Danica Patrick made history Sunday when she posted the fastest qualifying run for the Feb. 24 Daytona 500. Her teammate Ryan Newman and owner/driver Tony Stewart posted speeds that were fourth and fifth fastest of the 45 drivers who took the green flag.
Patrick is the first female driver to win a NASCAR pole and will join Jeff Gordon, who posted the second fastest time, on the front row when the green flag drops Sunday on the Great American Race at Daytona International Speedway.
Although Stewart and Newman showed their cars are fast, their starting spots will be determined after Thursday’s Duel races. They will, however, be assured a spot in the Daytona 500 by virtue of finishing in the top-6 drivers in the qualifying race.
Both Stewart and Patrick praised the work of Tony Gibson, Patrick’s crew chief, and the SHR workers back in the shop for the fast car. The NASCAR Sprint Cup series raced the new Gen-6 race car for the first time in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited and preparing the new car for the Daytona races has been a big challenge for all the teams.
Patrick posted a qualifying time of 45.817 seconds at 196.434, Newman had the fourth fastest qualifying time of 45.931 seconds (195.946 mph) and Stewart was fifth after making his lap in 45.936 seconds with a top speed of 195.925.
“I'm proud of her, Gibson said when addressing the media during the post-qualifying press conference. “I know there was a lot of pressure on her to come here and qualify well, in the top six, to lock us in. I'm proud of her to carry that weight on her shoulders. She didn't falter. She did everything right. She hit her marks, hit her marks on the shifts, and here we are. It's a big deal for me, for sure, personally. I've been knocked off these front rows several times by just a little bit. It's really nice to come here and get it done, especially for the Daytona 500, my hometown. It's a big deal.”
“Just really proud today more than anything,” Stewart said in the media center. “Very appreciative of everybody at Stewart‑Haas Racing, the Hendrick engine and chassis department for all the work that they have put forth to get ready for Daytona.
“This was, not only for our organization, but for all the organizations and teams, this was probably one of the most difficult winters that I can remember from my 15 years of going through off‑seasons here for teams to actually get prepared to come down here to Daytona. And to have three cars in the top five like that, just really, really appreciative and excited that we were able to bring three consistent cars down like this.”