The stars may be aligning for Danica Patrick as she enters the Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday (May 5) at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), always seems run well in the month of May, and she loves restrictor-plate racing, the kind of which takes place at Talladega.
Her memorable “May Days” have mostly been in the IZOD IndyCar Series at the Indianapolis 500. She burst onto the scene in May 2005, when she stunned the world by leading 19 laps and finishing fourth in her first Indianapolis 500 – becoming the first woman to lead laps and score a top-five finish in the historic race.
Patrick set numerous records during her Indianapolis 500 debut and set the tone early when she posted the fastest lap on the opening day of practice. She went on to set the fastest practice lap five times that month – more than any other driver – including Pole Day and Carb Day.
Patrick’s practice lap of 229.880 mph on Pole Day was the fastest of any driver during the month and the fastest turned by any woman in the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. During her qualification attempt, Patrick made an impressive save as her car bobbled in turn one on her first lap, earning rave reviews for her car control by longtime Indianapolis Motor Speedway observers. She ended up qualifying fourth, the best starting position ever by a woman in the legendary event.
On race day, 11 laps before the end of the 200-lap race, Patrick blew past leader Dan Wheldon and held the point until lap 194, when she was forced to back off the pace to conserve enough fuel to make it to the finish. Patrick ended up fourth – the best finish ever for a woman at Indianapolis at that time – and earned Rookie of the Year honors for her efforts, which included leading the race three times for 19 laps.
In seven Indianapolis 500 starts (all in the month of May, of course) Patrick qualified in the top-10 five times and finished in the top-10 six times – including a third-place result in 2009. It remains the best finish by a woman in the history of the Indianapolis 500.
When she turned her attention to NASCAR full-time, Patrick continued to find promising May results in 2012. She finished 13th or better in three of the four NASCAR Nationwide Series races (Talladega, Darlington, Charlotte) conducted during the month.
And while the month of May has always been good to Patrick, so have restrictor-plate tracks, and that was again true in February at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Like she did at Indianapolis, she made headlines around the world with her record-setting performance in the 55th Daytona 500. She became the first woman to win a Sprint Cup pole when she set the fastest time in qualifying for the Daytona 500, and then finished in eighth place, the highest finishing position ever for a woman in the “Great American Race.”
She led laps 90 to 91 under caution, becoming the first female to lead NASCAR’s most prestigious race, and then held the top spot under green from laps 127 to 129 to become the first woman to lead a NASCAR race under green. The only other woman to lead laps in a Sprint Cup race is Janet Guthrie, who led five laps under yellow in 1977 at Ontario (Calif.) Motor Speedway.
By leading laps in the Daytona 500, Patrick joined an elite club of only 13 drivers to have led both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. The other drivers to accomplish the feat are A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Bobby Allison, Jim Hurtubise, Johnny Rutherford, Tim Richmond, John Andretti, Robby Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart.
Of those 13 drivers, only Patrick, Foyt, Andretti, Gordon, Montoya and Stewart have led at least five laps in each race.
Patrick’s eighth-place finish in the Daytona 500, coupled with her six top-10 finishes in the Indianapolis 500, make her one of only 15 drivers to have top-10 results in each race. The other drivers are Foyt, Montoya, Gordon, Rutherford, Stewart, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Johns, Cale Yarborough, Dan Gurney, Donnie Allison, Jerry Grant, Paul Goldsmith and Tom Sneva.
She won’t be in Indianapolis this May, but she’ll look to make even more history in the Sprint Cup ranks during a month that has been very good to her throughout her career. And a victory at Talladega this weekend would certainly add another chapter to her already impressive story.