You go (fast), girl

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 19, 2013

For the first time in history, the fellow who turned the fastest qualifying lap at Daytona didn’t win the pole position for Sunday’s 500. This year, the honor goes to Danica Patrick, who turned the fastest lap overall, beating Jeff Gordon by a smidgen of a mph or so.
Patrick thus becomes the first woman to win the pole for a NASCAR Cup race. You’d have to travel back to 1977 and driver Janet Guthrie to find the previous highest female qualifier. She started ninth on the grid at both Bristol and Talladega.
While the accomplishment is historic, it shouldn’t be that surprising. Patrick won the pole for the Nationwide Series opener at Daytona last year, and in her rookie year at Indianpolis, she came close to capturing the pole before qualifying (and finishing) fourth.
Race cars don’t care who’s behind the wheel, and qualifying is vastly different from a 500-mile marathon. But this is an unqualified milestone in motorsports. Amid all the Danica mania — the media circus, the on-track flareups and, recently, her budding romance with fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse — this puts the focus back on track, where nothing matters but results.