DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick climbed out of her crumpled Chevrolet and went immediately to the neighboring team transporter to watch a video replay of Saturday night's last lap crash at Daytona International Speedway.
Running among the top 10 and hitching up to draft with Daytona ace Dale Earnhardt Jr. she was making good on her pre-race promise to be more aggressive in the waning laps.
Unfortunately for her, the ride ended abruptly. Her No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevy bobbled, slid across the track and the last "Big One" of the day produced another half dozen wrecked cars.
As Patrick stood with the small group of reporters for her interview after the Coke Zero 400, she kept glancing over her shoulder to see the massive scoring pylon -- her car number "10" slowly dropping down the scoreboard tower as she spoke.
"We got the GoDaddy car in a decent position (at the end), but I feel like every time I look at the board right now, I'm further down,'' said Patrick, who was ultimately scored 14th. "But we ran strong, and that's what we wanted to do. All in all, a solid day."
After winning the pole position for February's Daytona 500 and making history with an eighth-place finish, much was expected of Patrick -- by others and herself -- for the summer's second act at NASCAR's most famous track.
Despite using the Daytona 500 backup car (the original was wrecked at Talladega in May) she qualified a respectful 11th for Saturday's Coke Zero 400. After working her way up and gaining track position when some of the leaders got caught on pit road during a caution, she ran as high as second place with 50 laps remaining.
She was eighth on a restart with seven to go. Her crew chief Tony Gibson telling her on the radio, "Go get 'em girl.''
On the final restart -- a green-white-checkered free-for-all -- she hooked up with her former Nationwide Series team owner, Earnhardt Jr.
"Well, it was a green-white-checkered so it's always exciting,'' Patrick said describing the last lap. "Junior and I had a good run through the middle then up high and I just watched the replay and it felt like I had a run just along the wall. It could have been me that came down in front of the 38 (and caused the wreck)."
"That definitely wasn't what I was trying to do. I was just trying to follow the 88. If that's what happened, I definitely apologize. I lost spots doing it.''
"I did make a run in that last lap. It didn't end up like I wanted. But I think it was all right. You've gotta do what you gotta do on those last laps. Nobody really has a plan. It's really hard to plan for what 42 other guys are going to do out there.''
Her 14th-place effort is among her best of the season. She was 12th at Martinsville, Va., and 13th at Michigan, in addition to her season-best eighth-place finish in February at Daytona.
And Gibson was certainly more encouraged than frustrated walking from the track to the team's transporter, even as he spotted Patrick's banged-up car.
"We had good speed and she did a really nice job all night and ran top 10 most of the time,'' Gibson said. "You never know at the end of these things where you're going to end up. One line moves and the other doesn't. She did a really good job and I'm proud of her. We didn't get the finish we wanted, but it could always be worse. I thought we were better than that (14th).
"But we've got fast cars and she can draft the hell out of these things. One of these times we're going to be in the right line at the right time and take advantage of it.''
Gibson said he was impressed the more assertive style his Sprint Cup rookie showed, even it didn't get the intended results this time. It was equal parts progress and education.
"Sometimes it hurts you, but at the end of the day you've got to make moves, you've got to be aggressive,'' the veteran Gibson said. "I felt like she was aggressive when she needed to be and sometimes you come out on the good end of that stuff and sometimes you don't."
"I'm happy with our finish.''
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