DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — All week long, Danica Patrick waged an assault on the record books. A week ago, Patrick became the first woman to win the Daytona 500 pole position, and in Sunday’s event she became the first woman to lead a lap in the Great American Race.
All that, however, came as consolation in the wake of her eighth-place finish. She took the last lap in third place, only to get shuffled back in the draft as she attempted to make a move on winner Jimmie Johnson.
Asked if she was elated to be in position to win, or disappointed to finish eighth, Patrick said, “I would imagine that pretty much anyone would kick themselves and say what I could have, should have done to give myself the opportunity to win. I think that’s what I was feeling today. It was uncertainty as to how I was going to accomplish that.’’
Making just her second appearance in the Daytona 500, Patrick bettered her result last year by 30 positions. She led three times for five laps overall, the latest on Lap 129.
While she had limited experience in Cup cars in plate races, and even less in the new sixth-generation cars, Patrick questioned when she needed to make her move.
“There was plenty of time while you were cruising along,’’ Patrick said. “I was talking to [crew chief] Tony [Gibson] and my spotter on the radio, ‘What do you see people doing? What’s working? What’s not?’ I was thinking in the car, ‘How am I going to do this?’ I didn’t know what to do exactly.’’
Patrick’s 500-mile lesson on the fly impressed her peers.
“She’s going to be making history all year long,’’ said runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch her progress. I enjoy racing with her.”
Tough day for Joe Gibbs Racing, which showed considerable strength when its three Toyotas were running 1-2-3 with 50 laps to go. It all went awry when, in the span of three laps, Matt Kenseth, who was at the front of a lead draft of six Toyotas, and teammate Kyle Busch fell out of contention because of engine failures.
Denny Hamlin, the last man standing at Gibbs, brought home his Toyota in 14th.
“Everyone is going to think we’re bummed out, and I am,’’ said Kenseth, who finished 37th after leading four times for 86 laps. “But I can’t be any more thankful or excited, honestly. I don’t think the week could have gone any better. Our finishing position doesn’t show it, but it’s just a great group — really, really fast racecars.’’
A fan of Gen-6
While the jury seemed to be out about the performance of the Gen-6 car in a plate race, Earnhardt Jr. gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up. “I thought the car put on a really good show all week. The car proved at the end of this Daytona 500 that it will race well and put on a good show.’’ . . . Mark Martin, 54, once again came close at Daytona, finishing third in his quest to win a race that has eluded him in 29 starts. It was his sixth top-five finish in the Daytona 500. “I’m not bitter about the things I haven’t accomplished. I’m pretty damn proud of the things I have,’’ Martin said . . . Kevin Harvick (42d) and Tony Stewart (41st), a pair of race favorites, were collected in a nine-car melee on Lap 34. It was not the way either had expected to start the season. “To hell with the season,’’ Stewart said. “I wanted to win the Daytona 500. We had a car that we could pass with today.’’
Thoughts with fans
Drivers expressed concern about the 28 spectators who were injured by flying debris from a horrific 12-car crash on the last lap of Saturday’s Nationwide Series opener. “I had a sick feeling all day, all morning since I got up about what happened yesterday at the end of the race with the fans,’’ Martin said. “I was happy today that we were able to race and not have a huge accident.’’ Track president Joie Chitwood said Sunday that 14 fans were treated and released from the track’s medical facility, and 14 were transported to local hospitals. A spokesman for Halifax Health Medical Center indicated seven patients were treated at their facility for injuries, and two were listed as critical, one a minor. Six remained hospitalized Sunday in stable condition . . . Actor James Franco, the honorary grand marshal, gave his own twist on the starting command when he barked: “Drivers — and Danica! — start your engines.’’ . . . Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis unfurled the green flag as honorary starter . . . Patriots receiver Wes Welker attended Sunday’s race. Other celebrities on hand included “Price is Right’’ host Drew Carey, South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, former Red Sox reliever Tom Gordon, and recording artists 50 Cent and T.I.Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.