The most impressive thing about Danica Patrick’s historic performance at the Daytona 500 is that she did not impress herself. Rather, she ran a race she believed she was capable of, and twice led the Great American Race, a first for a woman driver.
Patrick, who has been doubted by many at every turn, had won the pole, and after losing the lead on the first lap to Jeff Gordon, held it together instead of cracking. She retook the lead on lap 90, making history. And he again ran out front for laps 127-129. She motored along in third place much of the final lap before settling for an eighth-place finish. This was a remarkable run considering her lack of experience.
Jimmie Johnson, who won his second Daytona 500, said of Patrick’s No. 10 bright green car: “It was a car on the track. I didn’t think of it as Danica. It was just another car that was fast.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said: “She’s a racer. She’s going to make a lot of history all year long.”
For her part, Patrick wanted more and lamented not winning, although she was not sure what she could have done differently to change the results. She contemplated breaking the line and making a move on Johnson. But no one else did, either. She rode third with a mile to go, and she seemed more disappointed that she did not hold that position down the stretch.
“Solid day, steady day,” she described it. “Really nothing super duper eventful.”
Patrick definitely was not happy with her start, losing the pole position almost instantly.
“I was disappointed I didn’t do it off the bat like I thought I should have,” she said. “So, it didn’t really have to do with being a girl and leading.”
She became just the 13th person in history, regardless of gender, to lead at least one lap of both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, which she accomplished in 2005.
“I thought that was a much cooler stat for me,” she said.