Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Danica Patrick has already started second-guessing her decision to not pull out to the bottom line during the final lap of the Daytona 500 but is overall satisfied with her eighth place day. She spent most of the day riding on the high line and never did pull to the bottom. As a result, she doesn't think she got a lot of drafting practice but is content having finished the race.
"We had a real steady day," Patrick said. "We got off to a nice start. I wish I had led at the start and thought I was but it was nice to lead later on - to lead laps. It was a real steady and smart day, running half-throttle. I just didn't think it was very wise to drop down, I would have just fallen to the back."
After several seasons running partial Cup Series schedules and the full Nationwide Series schedule in 2012, Patrick will run the complete 2013 campaign this season. And despite her top-10 run at Daytona, Patrick says she's not prepared to expect that kind of performance on a weekly basis.
"It's really unwise to say that a top-10 is where we need to be every week," Patrick said. "The Cup Series is really tough. The teams are really good and the drivers are smart enough to do right things at the right time. We'll go to (next week's race at) Phoenix and see where we are after five weeks.
"We're basing our performance off last year's stuff. And that could change after five weeks. We could be better or we could be worse."
Her former Nationwide Series team owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr. thinks she's already better in her Cup Series starts than she has been in the Nationwide Series, and thinks she could make a lot more headlines for her on-track performance the rest of the week.
"I think she's done some of her best work in the Cup car," Earnhardt Jr. said. "She's done a really good job in the high-pressure and hectic situations. I think today proved that she makes really good decisions and I'm looking forward to racing against her all year long."
While Patrick would like to have won, she spoke at length during Speedweeks about earning the respect of her fellow Cup Series drivers. One race into the season, she's accomplished that but winning the race in addition to earning respect would have been her ideal scenario.
"I imagine everyone is kicking themselves over what they should have done to win," Patrick said. "During the race, I was thinking to myself, ‘how am I going to do this?' Maybe choosing not to go to the bottom was inexperience and I was a little uncertain."
The indecision only cost her five positions and she'll leave Daytona with an top-10 points position. Danica entered the season hoping to just break into the top-20 first and then set her sights on the top-10 and a possible Chase berth. It's just one race out of 36 but she's given herself the best start possible.