She leads the way: Danica Patrick takes historic pole position for Daytona 500

By Steve Almasy and Mark Morgenstein, CNN
updated 7:56 PM EST, Sun February 17, 2013
(CNN) -- She says she was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl.

On Sunday, none of the boys was faster than the girl.

Danica Patrick became the first woman to win the pole position for the Daytona 500, considered the Super Bowl of NASCAR, posting a lap of 196.434 mph Sunday.

In doing so, she also became the first woman to win a pole at any NASCAR top-division race, racking up another milestone in her barrier-breaking career.

"I've heard stories about a kid, a boy or a girl, saying, 'But mommy, daddy. That's a girl that's out there racing.' And then they can have that conversation to say that, 'You can do anything you want to do, and gender doesn't matter.' Your passion is what matters. And that's cool," Patrick told CNN's Don Lemon on Sunday.

"When the pressure is on and when the spotlight is on, they ultimately become some of my better moments," she said.

Patrick, who was the favorite to win the pole, said she felt some nerves because of the high expectations.

"I feel more nervous when there is more on the line," she said. "It was, 'Just don't make a stupid mistake.' "

She said that driving a qualifying lap at Daytona -- where drivers shift gears three times then run the engine pretty much wide open -- was 90% crew preparation and 10% driver.

Not so, said her crew chief, Tony Gibson, who said it's an even split.

"I'm proud of her. She didn't falter," he said.

She will start in the front row in the February 24 race, alongside Jeff Gordon, who ran a lap at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway at 196.292 mph.

Co-car owner and fellow driver Tony Stewart said, "She runs so smooth, keeps such a smooth line, and that's what you have to do to carry speed here."

The rest of the field will be set in two qualifying races scheduled for Thursday.

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