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Danica Patrick makes history again, forced to settle for top 10 in Daytona 500

After being first woman to win a Sprint Cup pole, Danica Patrick becomes first woman to lead a lap in the Daytona 500.

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013

If you think Danica Patrick or her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing team was satisfied with a top-10 finish in Sunday’s Daytona 500, think again.

“We were going for the win,” said Patrick’s crew chief, Tony Gibson, after her eighth-place finish – the highest for a woman in the “Great American Race.”

“I told her after we survived that last practice on Friday that Sunday’s was hers, and she should treat it as a video game – go run as hard as you can. Make something happen.”

Patrick certainly did.

And she started last weekend, when she became the first woman to win a pole in the Sprint Cup Series claiming the top starting spot in the 500.

Early in Sunday’s race, she accomplished another milestone becoming the first woman to lead a lap in the 500. She eventually led the race twice for five laps.

“I wish I would have led at the very beginning. I thought I was going to. So, it was nice to lead later on in the race, just to have done that, to lead laps,” Patrick said.

“But it was steady. I spent most of the day half throttle running behind people. So, you know when you get in that nice outside line where it’s just single file, I didn’t feel like it was a wise idea to drop low and try to figure out how to pass.

“You were going to probably find yourself much further back.”

Patrick spent virtually the entire race in the top-10. A couple times during green-flag pit stops, Patrick lost ground when she spun her wheels exiting her pit stall.

Late in the race, she was running third but as the final laps unfolded and Dale Earnhardt Jr. charged to the front, Patrick got shuffled out of the mix for a shot at the win.

Despite the strong performance to start the 2013 season, Patrick said she would not alter her expectations, at least for several weeks.

“I think that would be unwise to sort of start telling myself that top-10 is where we need to be every week. I think that’s setting up for failure,” she said.

“The list of drivers in the Cup series is deep. This is a unique track. These tracks are different and unique and a lot about the car.

“You have to be smart enough to do the right thing at the right time. But it’s very much about the car.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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