(Photo: Jerry Lai, USA TODAY Sports)
Jeff Gluck, USA TODAY Sports
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick made history again Sunday.
She led a lap at the Daytona 500, not quite halfway through the 200-lap event.
Patrick, the first woman to ever win the pole for a Sprint Cup Series race, was surrounded by dozens of people as she climbed into her car amidst a wild scene.
She led the field of 43 to the start. Jeff Gordon, who sat on the inside lane, passed her to lead the first lap.
As drivers prepared for the 55th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, grand marshal James Franco gave an unusual command.
"Drivers -- and Danica -- start your engines!" he said.
This really is Danica Patrick's Daytona 500.
The morning started out much calmer, though.
Drivers all have sponsor appearances and meetings to attend on the day of a race, but Patrick's first obligation wasn't until 9:20 a.m.
She made appearances on ESPN and SPEED, then met with two contest winners from sponsor Coke Zero and about 10 people from sponsor Go Daddy. All the activities took place are her motorhome, which meant she didn't have to hop on a golf cart and dash all over Daytona International Speedway's expansive property.
After meeting with crew chief Tony Gibson for approximately 30 minutes in the team's hauler, Patrick attended the drivers meeting (she sat next to boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a fellow rookie).
Then it was time for lunch and driver introductions. When she was introduced to the crowd, Patrick received as many cheers as Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has won a record 10 consecutive Most Popular Driver awards.
But then she suddenly got off schedule. The traditional parade lap around the track on the back of a truck took longer than expected, and Patrick didn't arrive at her car until the national anthem was about to play.
She hurriedly took a picture for the Coors pole award -- Miss Coors Light and Pete Coors had been waiting 20 minutes for her to arrive -- and then climbed into the car to start the race.