DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Natalie Decker, in her first attempt at Daytona Int’l Speedway, won the General Tire Pole Award for Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 driven by General Tire at Daytona during pole qualifying on Friday afternoon.
The Eagle River, Wisconsin rookie qualified with a top speed of 181.859 mph in her No. 25 Venturini Motorsports-prepared N29 Capital Partners Toyota. Her top speed came from the fourth group among the six groups that qualified.
“This means so much to me to be here,” said Decker. “And to get the pole at Daytona is definitely the biggest moment of my career. I beat Johnny Sauter once at State Park Speedway, but this even beats that.”
Decker got some good help from veteran spotter Eddie D’Hondt during her qualifying run.
“My goodness … that was crazy,” admitted Decker. “My spotter talked the whole time. I told him to talk to me a lot. He told me to hold it on the yellow line and that’s what I did. He sent me a big long text last night and it helped so much. Thanks to Dave (Leiner, crew chief), Billy (Venturini), Toyota and everyone at Venturini Motorsports for walking me through this whole thing. Everyone has been so helpful.”
“There’s been so much learning. Dave has helped me so much. I’m so thankful he’s my crew chief and to be running with Venturini Motorsports. They’ve helped me so much.”
Leiner is slated to be Decker’s crew chief for the entire ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards season.
“Well I said last year, second or third race in … I said Natalie’s the real deal,” said Leiner. “I’ve worked with a lot of young drivers. Nat has what it takes to win here … to get to the next level. She’s got the drive, the talent and the backing. She gives good feedback, she listens well … she’s a joy to work with, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Decker did not participate in final practice prior to qualifying; instead spent time signing autographs at the quarter midget races staged in the infield at Daytona.
“I know all those girls running quarter midgets are watching. I signed a lot of autographs today … it was so much fun,” Decker said. “I just want them to know that they can do this … they just need to keep pushing through.”
“It’s been a wonderful, wonderful day. I’m so excited to be here. I know I’m going to get nervous when I climb in that car for the race; but I’m going to turn those nerves into drive and excitement once the race starts.”
MDM Motorsports drivers Zane Smith and Chase Purdy were second and third in qualifying, while sports car ace Max Tullman slotted in fourth for Mason Mitchell Motorsports.
Decker’s Venturini Motorsports teammate Leilani Munter was fifth fastest in the No. 20 Vegan Strong Toyota.
Gus Dean, Travis Braden, Riley Herbst, Willie Mullins and Tom Hessert completed the top 10.
Despite being nervous, Decker also said she has no hesitation when it comes to racing in a big pack at Daytona.
“No hesitation,” she affirmed. “Danica (Patrick) has done such a good job of paving the way for all girl drivers. There are a lot of them coming up … and they’re all fast. I want to have a good showing tomorrow night for all of them, and I know I have the right team to do it with.”
Decker is the fourth female pole winner in Daytona Int’l Speedway history.
In addition to Patrick’s Daytona 500 pole in 2013, Erin Crocker captured the Lucas Oil 200 pole in 2007, while Patty Moise was the Lucas Oil 200 polesitter in back-to-back years in 1989 and 1990.
CREDIT: ARCA Communications and Daytona Int’l Speedway