DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick, who already made plenty of news off the track at Daytona, made some NASCAR history on it.

Patrick, 30, Sunday became the first woman in series history to win a pole in the Sprint Cup Series and will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

The previous best start for a woman in the series was ninth by Janet Guthrie in 1977. Guthrie also holds the previous best start for a woman in the 500, starting 18th in 1980.

That meant the fastest guy -- Jeff Gordon -- will only start second.

Patrick's first feeling upon learning she had won the pole?

"Pride," she said. "I'm proud of all the hard work that goes into making a pole-winning car. It's not just turning left. It's so many other things, including the attention of detail the guys on the team put in over the winter."

Trevor Bayne qualified third, Ryan Newman was fourth and Tony Stewart fifth as Stewart-Haas Racing placed all three cars in the top five.

Before Sunday, almost all of the attention which surrounded Patrick since her arrival Thursday at Daytona was about her romance with fellow Cup rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Sunday's run turned the topic back to the approaching 500 -- for now.

"The race is where it's really at to get to the end and to have a fast car and be in the right place at the right time. But this just speaks volumes about Stewart-Haas racing," Patrick said. "I thought we were going to be one-two-three, for a while.

Starting up front at Daytona is not new for Patrick. She won the pole for the Nationwide Series season opener at Daytona last year. The only other woman to win a pole in one of NASCAR's three national series was Shawna Robinson in a Nationwide race at Atlanta in 1994.

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Also, Patrick had one of the fastest cars during preseason testing last month and was fastest in Friday's second Cup practice session.

"I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl," she said.

With only 45 cars trying to make the 43-car field this season, the two drivers in biggest danger of missing the race are Mike Bliss and Brian Keselowski, who were the two slowest cars and also rank lowest in car owner points. To get in the 500, they will have to race their way in through Thursday's qualifying races.