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Patrick and Gordon right where they want to be

The SportsXchange

Staff Report, NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon have to be pleased with their qualifying efforts on Sunday, Feb. 17. After all, once all 45 drivers had taken their two-lap jaunt around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway they had clocked the two fastest times and were the only two drivers to lock in their starting positions (both on the front row) for the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 24.

The remaining field will be set on Thursday, Feb. 21, during the Budweiser Duel, a pair of 150-mile qualifying races that will essentially determine the other 41 drivers and their positions in the starting field for "The Great American Race."

Patrick and Gordon definitely put themselves in a great position at the start of the race -- a position in which any driver would love to be. However, starting on the front row for the Daytona 500 doesn't always guarantee success.

In the 54 previous runnings of the Great American Race, only seven drivers have won from the pole position. Only two of these drivers accomplished the feat more than once -- Cale Yarborough (1968, 1984) and Bill Elliott (1985, 1987). Dale Jarrett was the most recent polesitter to capture the Harley J. Earl Trophy when he won the event in 2000.

The other drivers to win the Daytona 500 from the pole were Fireball Roberts (1962), Richard Petty (1966), Buddy Baker (1980) and Gordon (1999).

Winning the Daytona 500 from the outside of the front row is even rarer. Only six drivers have accomplished this feat, with Richard Petty the only one with more than one victory in the race from the second starting position. The most recent driver to win from this spot was once again Jarrett, in 1993, Gordon's first full-time season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

A.J. Foyt (1962), Geoffrey Bodine (1986), Darrell Waltrip (1989) and Ernie Irvan (1991) are the four other drivers.

In capturing the pole, Patrick became the first female to do so in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Prior to Patrick's qualifying run, Janet Guthrie held the mark for top starting position by a female in the series when she started ninth twice during the 1977 season. Patrick also holds the record for highest points finish in one of NASCAR's national series (10th in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2012) and highest finish in a race in a national series by a female (fourth in the Nationwide Las Vegas race in 2011).

After posting a blistering lap speed of 196.434 mph (45.817 seconds), Patrick was quick to praise her team on the accomplishment.

"I appreciate the recognition, but it really falls 90 percent on (crew chief) Tony (Gibson) and his guys and everybody that gives me the car to go out there and be fast, and maybe, maybe 10 percent on me," Patrick said. "All I have to do is think about going out there and being smooth and not letting the car bind up and running on that yellow line."

Even though Patrick and everyone on her No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet team are excited about being on the pole for the Daytona 500, they also know that there's a tremendous amount of pressure that comes with the territory. However, Patrick isn't too concerned.

"I think that when pressure's on and when the spotlight's on I feel like it ultimately ends up becoming some of my better moments, my better races and my better results," Patrick said. "I don't know why that is. I'm grateful for it because the opposite of that would be, I'm guessing I probably wouldn't be here today and I wouldn't be in the position I'm in."

Quartet of new drivers bring vigor to new NASCAR Nationwide Series season

As the 2013 season dawns, many changes are in the air. One of the most notable being the arrival of a new crop of drivers to the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Among the solid rookie class are four drivers that bring a profusion of promise and talent to the series: Parker Kligerman, Kyle Larson, Travis Pastrana and Nelson Piquet Jr.

While none of them have a tremendous amount of experience in NASCAR's secondary series (Kligerman is the veteran of the group with 18 starts), they are all eager to start the season.

Kligerman, who will drive the No. 77 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, has five top-10 finishes and one pole in 18 starts. His best finish was a seventh that came last summer at Chicagoland. His only pole came in his first series start, at Kansas in 2009.

The 22-year-old from Westport, Conn., moves up from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series where he won the fall Talladega race last year. His victory, along with eight top fives and 15 top 10s netted him a fifth-place finish in the overall points standings.

Kyle Larson already has a championship trophy in his collection after winning the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title; however, he would love to add another one in the near future.

He finds himself at the helm of the No. 32 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet for the 2013 season without a single start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. That alone speaks to his talent and the potential TSM sees in the 20-year-old driver from Elk Grove, Calif.

In the truck series, Larson had only four starts, but he's been impressive in those races notching three top-10 finishes, including a runner-up performance at Phoenix in the penultimate race last year.

On Monday night, he won the first race of the inaugural UNOH Battle At The Beach in a somewhat controversial last-lap finish on the .4-mile track situated on the backstretch of Daytona International Speedway.

However, racing on the shortened track is a lot different than going full throttle around the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

"It's hard to plan a strategy when it comes to these restrictor-plate races because things change so quickly every lap," said Larson.

Probably the most popular driver, with the Twitter followers to prove it, to step full-time into NASCAR Nationwide action this season is Travis Pastrana. Of course, his popularity comes primarily from his days as an extreme sports star and as producer of the popular MTV show, "Nitro Circus."

Pastrana will drive the No. 60 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing in 2013. In nine starts, his best performance was a 13th-place finish last season at Indianapolis.

In July 2011, he was scheduled to make his series debut at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, but he broke his right foot and ankle a couple days prior to the race. He ended up delaying his debut until April 2012 at Richmond International Raceway. He finished 22nd in the race.

Saturday's race will be his first series race at Daytona International Speedway, but not his first competition on the track. His first win in the Pro Ranks was at Daytona in the AMA Supercross Series 125 East Class.

Although Pastrana is extremely competitive, he's going into the year with realistic goals and hoping to learn from his experiences.

"The NASCAR Nationwide Series is the most competitive series I've had the opportunity to be a part of," Pastrana said. "This year I'm going in with open expectations. My goals this season are to do the best I can every race and to learn every race."

Nelson Piquet Jr. might only have four starts to his credit in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, but he's the most accomplished out of the four drivers in their new home series.

In only four starts, the 27-year-old from Brazil already has one NASCAR Nationwide win, which came at Road America last season.

In 2012, he competed in the truck series where he won twice (Michigan, Las Vegas) and captured three poles before being named the series' Most Popular Driver at season's end.

He is the first Brazilian to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race, and the first to run a full-time NASCAR Nationwide schedule, driving the No. 30 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet.

"I'm so ready for this season to finally start," Piquet said. "Running full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series is a dream come true for me."

NASCAR D4D alum Darrell Wallace Jr. embarks on his first NCWTS season this weekend

Darrell Wallace Jr. has found a lot of success on the race track in his relatively short career. However, none of that success has come while driving in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

The reason? It's pretty simple. He's never competed in the series.

Wallace appeared in four races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series last season, becoming the first African-American to a win pole in the series. In three of those races he had top-10 finishes, his best a seventh-place finish at Iowa. His worst finish in the series, twelfth.

Not bad.

In only 36 career starts in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Wallace captured six wins and 25 top-10 finishes. In 2010, he became the youngest winner in series history.

That same year, as a member of Rev Racing and the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program, Wallace won rookie of the year honors in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

Not bad, either.

However, when Wallace finds himself at the wheel of the No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota for Friday's NextEra Energy Resources 250, he'll be in unfamiliar waters. But, based on his success up to this point, no one can or should count Wallace out.

"I can't wait to get started," Wallace said. "I appreciate everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch Motorsports for working this out and providing me the opportunity to compete for rookie of the year and the championship in the truck series."

Although the 2013 season will be filled with learning opportunities for Wallace as he navigates the different nuances of the series, don't be surprised if somewhere along the way he happens to find his way to Victory Lane.
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