Danica Patrick set to make history at Daytona

(CBS News) DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- History will be made at Sunday's Daytona 500 when Danica Patrick becomes the first woman to start the race at the head of the pack. She clinched the pole position in a qualifying race Thursday.

Patrick had the fastest qualifying time for NASCAR's biggest race: more than 196 miles per hour.

The 30-year-old, who gained fame for racing against the boys and her racy TV commercials, says she wants more.

"I always feel like I have more to prove," she says. "I feel like I have to keep earning -- earning the respect and earning my keep and showing people that I belong."

Danica Patrick says she was raised to be the fastest driver -- not the fastest girl.
Danica Patrick says she was raised to be the fastest driver -- not the fastest girl.

Even as a nine-year-old Go-Kart racer in Illinois, Patrick says she was not raised to be the fastest girl, but the fastest driver.

In 2005, Patrick finished fourth in her first Indianapolis 500, then switched to the more rough-and-tumble NASCAR circuit for a new challenge.

Danica Patrick makes NASCAR history

But she crashed in two of her first 10 races last year, and her average finish was 28th.

Still, NASCAR is heavily promoting Patrick. The sport hopes she can grow and diversify its fan base, two-thirds of whom are men.

"I love the people," she says. "I love the racing. They made me feel welcome, and they were embracing of my difference. I mean, there was a point in time -- 40 years ago when women weren't even allowed in the garage area. So, we've come a long way, and I'm -- I'm fortunate to be here in a time where it's embraced."

Only nine of Daytona's 54 previous pole winners have gone on to take the checkered flag -- about one in five. But defying odds and expectations is what drives Danica Patrick.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.