Danica Patrick finished eighth in the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, earning the highest finishing position ever for a woman in the “Great American Race.”
The previous best finish for a woman in the Daytona 500 was 11th by Janet Guthrie in 1980.
Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), wrote another chapter of Daytona 500 history by leading laps 90-91, becoming the first female to lead NASCAR’s most prestigious race. She also led laps 127-129. Patrick made similar history in the IZOD IndyCar Series when she led 19 laps as a rookie in the 2005 Indianapolis 500, becoming the first woman to lead open-wheel racing’s premier event. She finished fourth that year at Indy.
Patrick is one of only 13 drivers to have led the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, joining A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Bobby Allison, Jim Hurtubise, Johnny Rutherford, Tim Richmond, John Andretti, Robby Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart.
The impressive drive capped an incredible week for Patrick, who made more history a week ago by becoming the first woman to win a Sprint Cup pole when she set the fastest time in qualifying for the Daytona 500.
“We ran up front all day long, and we led a little,” said Patrick, who also earned her career-best Sprint Cup finish. “We stayed in the top-10 all day, pretty much. Had nice pit stops by the GoDaddy crew, the car was fast, and it’s always a little frustrating when you come through and you’re top three on that last lap. I will learn more for next time.”
Patrick was third as the as the field took the white flag but got shuffled out of the draft and dropped to eighth before the checkered flag fell on the 55th running of the Daytona 500.
“I really didn’t feel like I had a great grasp as to ‘how do you go win this race?’” Patrick said. “I hadn’t wrapped my head around exactly how that was going to happen. I kept thinking about it out there because for the most part I was running half-throttle for most of the race running in the line. I will know better for next time and for Talladega. I mean, the same stuff will probably apply. Good job Jimmie (Johnson) – we got a Chevy to win, so that is good.”
Despite being disappointed in losing a top-five finish and possibly a win, Patrick saw the upside to her impressive day.
“At the end of the day, it was a solid day for the GoDaddy Chevrolet and the GoDaddy crew,” Patrick said. “They did a nice job in the pits, and we stayed basically in the top-10 all day long. So I can’t really complain about that. It was nice. It was calm most of the time, but it was fun when it got a little exciting.”
Tony Gibson, crew chief of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS, could not have been more proud of Patrick’s performance.
“I’m jacked up, man; that was awesome,” Gibson said. “We definitely had a shot to win it there, and that’s all you can ask for. Can’t do nothing about those guys getting runs on you. It is just the way it is. But I am so proud of Danica and everybody on the GoDaddy Chevy SS. It has been a great week-and-a-half. I couldn’t ask for it to go any better. She impressed the heck out of me the whole day long. Getting on and off pit road. The pit crew did a fantastic job.
“I’m just looking forward to every week. Every week we are going to get better and better and better. There’s going to be some bumps in the road, but we’re willing to suck those on and get us some high notes. I’m just jacked up. I’m so proud of her. She kept her head for a week-and-a-half. We wouldn’t let her race in the 150 (Budweiser Duel qualifying race). We wouldn’t let her practice hard. She came out here and ran up front all day long. To be the first woman to sit on the pole of the Daytona 500 and the first woman to lead a lap in the Daytona 500 is pretty damn impressive. And the highest finish ever. What else are you going to get from that?”
Patrick’s SHR teammate Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS, finished fifth. Patrick’s other SHR teammate, Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, finished 41st after getting caught in an accident early in the 200-lap race.
Jimmie Johnson won the Daytona 500 to score his 61st career Sprint Cup victory and his second in the Daytona 500, with the other in 2006. He became the 10th driver to win multiple Daytona 500s.
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished .129 of a second behind in the runner-up spot. Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski and Newman took spots three through five. The rest of the top-10 consisted of Greg Biffle, Regan Smith, Patrick, Michael McDowell and JJ Yeley.
There were six caution periods for 24 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish.
With round one of 36 complete, Newman leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He is fifth, seven points behind series leader Johnson. Patrick stands seventh, 10 points out of first. Stewart is 37th, 44 points behind Johnson.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished four spots ahead of Stenhouse (12th).
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Subway Fresh Fit 500k Sunday, March 3 at Phoenix International Raceway. The race starts at 3 p.m. EST, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 2:30 p.m.