DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Pristine and green, Danica Patrick's No. 10 Go Daddy Chevrolet was rolled back to her garage in showroom condition -- just the way her team wanted it -- following Thursday's Budweiser Duel at Daytona International Speedway.
Although she finished 17th out of 23 cars, Patrick cleared another hurdle on her path to history, avoiding a late-race four-car wreck. Now, only a stroke of utter misfortune will prevent Patrick, 30, from becoming the first female to start any Sprint Cup race from the pole.
"We didn't want to have any issues with the Go Daddy Car,"said Patrick, sporting sunglasses and diamond earrings after climbing from her Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. "We wanted to make sure we got it on that front row for Sunday. That's not the most exciting way to race . . . but it's also really ignorant to go drive up into the pack and be part of an accident for no reason."
In the Daytona 500's multi-stage qualifying process, Patrick earned the right to start on the pole by posting the fastest lap in last Sunday's qualifying session. However, should she crash or blow an engine during other races or practice, she could be forced to a backup car and to the rear of the Daytona 500 field. Patrick will be on the track again for practice tomorrow.
Patrick, who proved her pole award was no fluke by posting the fastest 10-lap average in Wednesday's second practice session, could have sat out the Duels. But she and crew chief Tony Gibson chose to run to gain data for Sunday's main event.
"I'll be really honest, I didn't feel like I got a lot great experience with how to pass or the draft," said Patrick, noting that yesterday's 150-mile race, while more important for other drivers looking to establish their positions in the field, felt more like a "test session" to her.
One thing she did learn was that the outside lane seemed fastest. Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, utilized a push from Denny Hamlin to pull ahead of Patrick at the start and led the first 36 laps. Kevin Harvick, winner of the season opening Sprint Unlimited last week, took the lead from Bayne on Lap 37 and led all but one of the remaining laps.
"I definitely learned that the outside is pretty good," Patrick said, indicating she might defy convention and choose to start on the outside in Sunday's race. "I also learned that you do need some friends [to bump draft]."
Failing to keep pace with cars running the top line, Patrick settled back to 11th place on Lap 7 and was ahead of only two cars by Lap 10.
"I was able to hang with the [lead] group. But we were really conservative with the setup and the back was way too tight, especially around [turns] 3 and 4," said Patrick, who also dealt with a faulty tachometer. "I did learn that being too tight is pretty detrimental here. If you can't keep your foot in it right behind cars, then you're going to struggle to make moves. It looks really hard to pass unless you have a bunch of people [pushing] you."