Danica Patrick managed to deliver on the hype by clinching pole position for next weekend's Daytona 500 season-opener to the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Jeff Gordon put the #24 alongside the GoDaddy.com #10, the fourth time Gordon has started on the front row in the event in his Cup career.
It's the first time that a female driver has ever claimed pole position for a Sprint Cup race. Patrick had previously become the second female driver to claim a pole in NASCAR's second-tier championship by starting from pole in last year's Nationwide Series race at Daytona. The only other female polesitter in Nationwide history was Shawna Robinson in 1994.
"Everything seemed pretty smooth, I didn't notice anything that threw me offline or made me move," she said of her qualifying laps. "The car moves around through the corner a little bit, it's hard to keep a perfect arc so you don't hit the apron."
It seemed as though her run might have benefited from some well-timed assistance from the weather conditions.
"Coming off of two, I felt like the car felt bound up. I let it out a little bit more than I would have. If that was wind, I don't know," she said. "But that was something that felt a little bit different compared to yesterday."
Patrick was quick to give the lion's share of the credit for her achievement to her crew chief Tony Gibson and his team who had build and set-up the car for her qualifying effort.
"I appreciate the recognition, but it really falls, as I think I said before I went out on the track, 90 per cent on Tony and his guys, everybody that gives me the car to go out there and be fast, and maybe 10 per cent on me," she said. "All I have to do is think about going out there, being smooth, not letting the car bind up, running on that yellow line.
"It's really amazing how much effort is put into a qualifying car for Daytona, for the 500, and really only the front row is what sticks for Sunday," she continued. "It's nice that all that hard work can pay off and that we can give ourselves that opportunity to lead the pack down into the tri-oval for the green flag of the Daytona 500."
For a time it looked like Patrick was going to be part of a Stewart-Haas Racing lock-out at the top. Team boss Tony Stewart had been the first to run on Sunday afternoon and his time was good enough to keep him on provisional pole until Patrick's qualifying laps. She was the eight of 45 drivers to make her single-car speed trial.
"The pole didn't matter to me personally," said Stewart, shrugging aside questions about whether he was put out by being knocked off pole by his rookie employee. "It was more as an owner, wanting Danica to be in the top two today. That way she's locked in, we don't have to worry about what happens on Thursday."