If there was any doubt about Danica Patrick's popularity it was reconfirmed Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway when she won the fan vote to gain entry into the Sprint All-Star Race.
The first woman to win a pole in NASCAR's top series, Patrick is in her rookie year in Sprint Cup and was expected to receive the most votes. She was one of three finalists along with Bobby Labonte and Martin Truex Jr.
"First and very foremost, thank you to all the fans who voted for me or maybe voted so many times for me," Patrick said. "I'm very fortunate to have the fan base that I do, and I never forget that.
"I'm going to sound really cheesy right now. I'm going to race for the fans tonight because I really, really ‑‑ I got done with that race and honestly I feel really fired up."
Patrick finished the preliminary Sprint Showdown in ninth and on the lead lap.
There was some debate earlier in the week when NASCAR announced a driver did not have to finish on the lead lap to be eligible to receive the fan vote that the decision was made to favor Patrick, who was likely to win but has finished on the lead lap just twice this season. Some dubbed the modification "The Danica Rule."
Patrick had hoped to race her way into the All-Star Race, but when it became obvious she wasn't going to finish in the top two transfer positions --Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished first and second -- she decided to back off and save her car in hopes she would claim the fan vote.
"I can't move on with a crashed car and there's nothing to be gained by trying something desperate in the last five laps," Patrick said. "I suppose at that point in time you say finish the race and there's nothing to be gained to do something that's not calculated at all."
Appreciative of the fans voting her in, Patrick's crew placed a "Thanks Fans" sticker on her car.
She will start the All-Star Race at the rear of the field in the 22nd position.