By Doug Halberstadt
This Sunday, Feb. 24, former Roscoe resident Danica Patrick will once again make sports history. This time, she will become the first female ever to lead the field to the green flag in a NASCAR race. She won the pole position for the 55th running of the Daytona 500. Her lap of 196.464 was the fastest during last Sunday’s (Feb. 17) qualifying. Her winning speed/time was the fastest since 1990 when Ken Schrader qualified at 196.515 mph.
She edged out NASCAR veteran and three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon. His fastest lap was 196.292. Joining Patrick and Gordon with top-five fastest laps are 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart. Because of NASCAR’s complicated qualifying process, only Patrick and Gordon are locked into the front two starting spots. The rest of the field won’t be slated until the results of twin 150 qualifying races.
Patrick will also start on the pole in tomorrow’s (Thursday, Feb. 21) first150-mile Budweiser Duel qualifying race. Regardless of her finish, she is locked into the pole position for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Patrick started last year’s Daytona 500 in the 29th position and finished the race in 38th after being involved in a wreck early in the race. She did manage to get her car back on the track, but finished 64 laps down. She started nine other Sprint Cup races in 2012. Her best finish was 17th.
Only seven different drivers have ever won “The Great American Race” from the pole position. Fireball Roberts was the first to do it back in 1962. Four years later, it was Richard Petty. Cale Yarborough and Bill Elliot have done it twice. Yarborough won from the pole in 1968 and 1984. Elliot did it in 1985 and 1987. Buddy Baker, Gordon and Dale Jarrett are the other three — Baker in 1980, Gordon in 1999, and Jarrett was the last driver to accomplish the feat in 2000.
Race fans can catch Patrick and the remaining 42 drivers battle it out on the 2 1/2-mile tri-oval beginning at noon, Sunday. The race will be televised locally on FOX Channel 39.
From the Feb. 20-26, 2013, issue