Patrick’s rough road ahead from pole position

Posted at 6:48 PM, Feb 18, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-18 18:48:27-05

(CNN) — By now, you’ve probably heard that Danica Patrick is the first woman to ever win pole position at the Daytona 500 — or any top-tier NASCAR Sprint Cup race for that matter. But what does that mean?

Well, because she rounded the Daytona Speedway oval with the fastest speed on Sunday (196.434 mph), Patrick is slated to start next Sunday’s Daytona 500 in the front row, on the inside portion of the track, giving her No. 10 GODADDY Chevrolet an immediate logistical advantage over all the other stock cars.

But starting from the pole position is no guarantee of success.

All but nine pole sitters have watched their leads evaporate in the previous 54 Daytona 500s, and no pole winner since Dale Jarrett in 2000 has led “The Great American Race” both at the start and the finish, NASCAR spokesman Scott Warfield said.

Patrick won’t start alone up front. Three-time Daytona winner Jeff Gordon will begin next to Patrick, a reward for his second-place finish in the time trial. Starting on the outside in his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, Gordon will cede a slight amount of territory to Patrick.

Patrick and Gordon have a mental advantage moving into Thursday’s 150-mile Budweiser Duels. While the front-runners are guaranteed slots in Sunday’s lineup, the other 43 drivers are racing Thursday for 41 Sunday slots, and for their starting order.

But Patrick and Gordon need to be extra careful Thursday, or fate could intervene and remove them from their predetermined perches.

That’s what happened to Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona just two years ago. After winning the pole in 2011, Junior wrecked his car in the week leading up to the race. After he switched to his backup car, his starting position was moved to the back of the pack, Warfield said.

By Mark Morgenstein