(Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images)

Danica Patrick used the words “happy,” “pride” and “a little relieved” to describe how she felt at winning the pole position for Sunday’s Daytona 500, something no woman has done in NASCAR.

Patrick in her first full season in the Sprint Cup Series, beat out 37 other drivers and clocked speeds over 196 miles per hour. Her achievement was significant — and a reminder that, as often as she crashes and cashes in on her sexuality, she’s also a talented driver, even if she has won only one IndyCar race.

“I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl,” Patrick said. “That’s how I’ve always approached my racing career. I’ve been lucky enough to make history and be the first woman to do many things. We have a lot more history to make and we are excited to do it.”

Jeff Gordon grabbed the No. 2 spot, also topping 196, and his daughter was eager to have her picture taken with Patrick afterward. “It’s great to be part of history,” Gordon said. “I can say I was the fastest guy today. I think we all know how popular she is, what this will do for our sport. Congratulations to her. Proud to be on there with her.”

Patrick has been the first at so many things in racing — she was the first woman to lead laps in the Indianapolis 500 and she finished third in the race, the best finish by a woman. No other woman has won an IndyCar race. Now, though, she has to make headlines this weekend for winning, not for wrecking her car, or fighting with another driver, or for her new boyfriend — fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

Patrick drove in Nationwide races last year, with limited appearances in Sprint Cup events. After last year’s disappointment at Daytona, she’s shown that she can beat the Daytona track one-on-one. Can she beat the rest of the drivers over 500 miles on that track?

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