Danica Patrick turned attention from her personal life to her driving Saturday.
The 30-year-old Stewart-Haas Racing driver topped the second Sprint Cup practice with a fast lap of 196.220 mph, raising the possibility of her becoming on Sunday the first female to win the pole for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 24.
Patrick’s lap was eight-tenths of a second faster than Joey Logano’s top lap of 195.410 mph in the morning session.
“I suppose being the fastest going into qualifying is as good as you can hope for,” said Patrick, who was third-fastest in the morning session. “Everything that we do is to make sure we do whatever we can to be on the pole. That’s what we all are shooting for.
“But tomorrow is a whole other day. You’ve got to hope the weather stays very consistent.”
The possibility of winning the pole made Patrick’s relationship with fellow Sprint Cup rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr., which has dominated headlines since she arrived here, secondary for the time being.
“Well, I have always felt in my career that when things go well on the track, the media responds to it,” Patrick said. “Make sure you write about how good the crew is that made this car and the last car that was really fast [at testing], and how strong the Hendrick [Motorsports] engine is.
“That’s really important at Daytona. Here at Daytona and Talladega, it’s very much about the potential of the car and the engine.”
Stenhouse posted the 24th-fastest time in the second practice and 15th in the first.
But Saturday wasn’t about Stenhouse or Patrick. It was about how fast crew chief Tony Gibson and everyone at SHR made her No. 10 Chevrolet, which also was fast here during a January test.
Patrick said this is not the same car.
“This other car was really good in the wind tunnel, so we brought it,” she said. “You always hope the numbers from the wind tunnel translate to the track, and it did.
“That’s kind of the way it’s gone for us at Daytona. Everything we think is going to work a certain way works the way it is expected to, and that’s not always the case.”
Patrick never has started on the pole in a Sprint Cup race. Her best start in 10 races last season was 23rd at Atlanta. She qualified 29th for the Daytona 500 and finished 38th, 64 laps behind winner Matt Kenseth.
Patrick’s best start in the Nationwide Series, in which she competed full time last year, was first last season at Daytona. She finished 38th in that race.
The best start in the 500 for a woman was 18th by Janet Guthrie in 1980. Patrick hopes to change that.
“It would be really nice,” Patrick said of winning the 500 pole. “It’s a very big pole of all of them in the year for attention, especially for [sponsor] GoDaddy, who is on the car. There are other races throughout the year that as a driver you feel more pleased or proud of yourself to get, but this one is a whole team effort.”
Team owner Rick Hendrick, whose organization supplies engines to Stewart-Haas Racing, said he’d “love to see her on the pole.”
“She’s magical,” he said. “You look at the Super Bowl, and she’s all over the Super Bowl. She’s a good little driver and she does a lot for our sport. It would really be special if she could be on the front row. It would be special. It never happened before, so that would be cool.”
Richard Petty, NASCAR’s all-time winner who once said women didn’t belong in the garage, agreed with Hendrick.
“From a [public relations] standpoint, it would be great,” he said. “What it does, it puts us in a different arena because people will pick up on it that don’t usually pick up on the race.”