Forget Speedweeks. It's going to be Danica-mania week at Daytona.
From last Thursday's media day at Daytona International Speedway to qualifying for the Daytona 500 on Sunday, the media have swarmed around Danica Patrick like a flock of seagulls from nearby Lake Lloyd fighting over bread crumbs.
The news about Patrick at Daytona, though, has shifted from her romantic relationship with fellow Sprint Cup Series competitor Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to her historic achievement in NASCAR by winning the pole position for the Feb. 24 Daytona 500.
When Sprint Cup resumes track activities at Daytona on Wednesday, there's going to be a lot of hype about Patrick, particularly her chances of winning the Daytona 500 -- NASCAR's most prestigious race of the season. And she'll be enjoying every minute of it.
"I love it when people put me on the radar, I do," Patrick said during her post-qualifying news conference. "When people put you on the radar, that feels good to me."
Patrick became the first woman to win a pole for a race in NASCAR's premier series. Her Daytona 500 pole win didn't come as much of a surprise, as she posted the fastest lap in Saturday's practice for qualifying. Patrick, who is running a full Sprint Cup schedule this season as driver of the No. 10 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, earned her maiden pole in just her 11th start.
"That's a huge accomplishment," said driver and team co-owner Tony Stewart, who is a three-time Sprint Cup champion. "It's not like it's been 15 or 20 years she's been trying to do this. It's her second trip to Daytona here in a Cup car. She's made history in the sport. That's stuff that we're proud of being a part of with her. It's something she should have a huge amount of pride in."
When Patrick made her Sprint Cup debut at Daytona one year ago, she started 29th and finished 38th. She was caught up in a multi-car wreck on the first lap but managed to finish the race 64 laps off the pace.
The pole win for this year's Daytona 500 became the next item on Patrick's list of accomplishments in her auto racing career. Before her foray into stock car racing in 2010, Patrick had already become enormously popular and widely marketable in the IndyCar Series.
In April 2008, Patrick became the first woman to win an IndyCar race when she took the checkered flag at Motegi, Japan. She also holds the record for highest finishing female in the Indianapolis 500 with a third-place run in 2009. Patrick is the only female to lead laps in the Indy 500 as well. She finished fourth in that event during her 2005 IndyCar rookie season.
Last year, Patrick finished 10th in the Nationwide Series point standings, making her the highest-finishing female in driver points for any one of NASCAR's three national touring series. She also holds the record as the best finisher for a woman in a NASCAR national touring race with a fourth-place run in the 2011 Nationwide event at Las Vegas.
"I'm grateful for all those things," Patrick said. "I feel like, first and foremost, I grew up with good values and good goals. I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl. That was instilled in me from very young, from the beginning.
"Then I feel like thriving in those moments where the pressure's on has also been a help for me. I also feel like I've been lucky in my career to be with good teams and have good people around me. I don't think any of it would have been possible without that.