DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Starting first is certainly no guarantee of an excellent finish, but Danica Patrick’s pole-winning run Sunday is likely to mean big box office for Daytona International Speedway.
Patrick ran the third-fastest qualifying speed at Daytona in the restrictor-plate era (196.434 mph) to edge Jeff Gordon for the top starting spot in the Feb. 24 Daytona 500.
Daytona president Joie Chitwood III wasn’t doing handsprings through the media center after Patrick’s historic run, but there was a broad smile on his face as he took questions from reporters.
“We will never turn down publicity,” Chitwood told the NASCAR Wire Service. “And you take that historic opportunity and tie it in with the Gen-6 race car. You tie it in with how well they ran — they ran over 200 (mph) in the draft on Saturday night (in The Sprint Unlimited).
“You put all those things together, and I think we’ll have a lot of attention to what we do this week, and that’s a good thing — and I’m never going to turn down that kind of publicity.”
Chitwood wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how many additional tickets Patrick’s pole run would sell.
“I don’t know if any of us are savvy enough to know,” Chitwood said. “Is it about a certain pole winner? Is it about how fast they ran in the Unlimited? How cool the Gen-6 car looks? At the end of the day, we all want more publicity for the sport.
“And with what she did — which is historic, and is about an accomplishment on the race track — that mixes in with the other storylines that were great coming into this: new car, (Brad) Keselowski as the champion, the speeds they ran, how good the Unlimited was.
“You mix ’em all together, and you get that snowball effect. This week, everyone’s going to talk about Danica, and they’ll talk about the Daytona 500, and I will do my best to proliferate that message as well.”
As a car owner, Tony Stewart was more relieved that Patrick locked herself into the Daytona 500 than he was disappointed at his own failure to win the pole.
“I’ll be honest — the pole didn’t matter to me personally,” said Stewart, who qualified fifth. “It was more as an owner, wanting Danica to be in the top two today. That way she’s locked in, (and) we don’t have to worry about what happens on Thursday (in the Budweiser Duels).
“To me, my eye is still on next Sunday. Ownership this Sunday. Next Sunday, I want it on the driver’s side.”
A three-time Sprint Cup champion, Stewart has never won the Daytona 500.
BEST IN CLASS?
Jeff Gordon found consolation, albeit facetiously, in running second to Danica Patrick in Sunday’s time trials at Daytona.
Gordon characterized himself as “the fastest guy,” and in at least one respect, he was content with his effort. Patrick, after all, had just become the first female driver to win a pole at NASCAR’s highest level.
“I’m glad I didn’t win the pole,” Gordon quipped. “It would have messed up that story.”