(NEW YORK) — In the 65-year history of NASCAR, there has never been a female winner. But Danica Patrick could change all that; she won pole position for the Daytona 500 this weekend.
“I’m not far enough removed from it to be able to understand what it really means,” she said Sunday. “All I can say is, just like anyone else in this moment, I’m happy. I’m proud.”
Patrick beat out 37 other drivers, including four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, and hit speeds of 196 miles per hour — Daytona’s fastest speed since 1990. She happens to be 8 inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than any of her male counterparts.
In addition to her team and state-of-the-art car, she said grueling workouts helped her in Sunday’s tryouts. Patrick has said in previous interviews that racing is like a three-hour workout.
Patrick has said she focuses on her upper-body strength, building neck muscles like an NFL linebacker to stay upright during hard turns.
Mike Massaro, an ESPN reporter, said he had no doubt that Patrick was in top physical shape.
“She is constantly working out, watching her diet,” Massaro said. “In fact, yesterday, after she turned in her qualifying lap and had a two-hour wait to see how it all played out, she spent her time by going to the gym. That’s how dedicated she is to her fitness routine.”
Patrick has said keeping a grip on the steering wheel during a race is like holding a medicine ball for two hours, and hitting the break pedal during the turns is like pushing down with 300 pounds of force.
She does all of this in sauna-like 150-degree temperatures inside the car, wearing a fireproof bodysuit.
Drivers can sweat off 7 pounds during a single race.
“She has said time and time again that she has not set out to be the fastest girl,” Massaro said. “She has set out to be the fastest driver and she proved that.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Christopher Dawson, CNN
Debra Goldschmidt, CNN
Dylan Byers, CNN
Jackie Wattles and Amanda Barnett, CNN