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By design, Patrick stays behind

February 21, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com

With Daytona 500 in mind, No. 10 crew plays it safe

RESULTS: Duel 1 | Duel 2

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick’s first time out as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole-sitter Thursday afternoon was a little underwhelming. But that was all by design.

Patrick’s No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS led the field of 23 cars to the green flag in the first 150-mile Duel at Daytona qualifying race but wasn’t the leader by the time the first lap was completed. In fact, she never led a lap, instead dropping back to run peacefully among the last half dozen cars.

The strategy helped her avoid the only multicar accident of the day, which happened near the front of the field toward the end of the race. Patrick finished 17th, but more importantly to her team, never compromised her Daytona 500 pole-winning car.

"We wanted to be conservative. ... I know it’s not the most exciting way to race."

-- Danica Patrick

“We wanted to be conservative,” Patrick said. “We didn’t want any issues with the GoDaddy car, we wanted to make sure we got it on the front row for Sunday. I know it’s not the most exciting way to race today.’’

But at least she completed every lap.

One of her Stewart-Haas Racing team owners, Gene Haas, suggested it might be best if she start and park the car to eliminate any threats to starting out front in Sunday’s Daytona 500. But Patrick’s crew chief Tony Gibson insisted they could benefit from the experience, even if in this case, they learned more about the car than Patrick, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, learned about restrictor-plate racing at the Cup series level.

“It was frustrating for her to sit there and just kind of ride around because she’s a go-getter, she’s a mash-the-gas and get after it (driver),’’ Gibson acknowledged. “But today we just kinda had to see how the race unfolded and look after our race car.

“Our plan was to stay in the top three or four if we could, if that wasn’t happening we were going to the back. I’m happy, my car’s in one piece and it’s a fast race car. We could drop back at will and suck back up there at will. I feel real confident about our speed and (Tony) Stewart was the same way.’’

Conceded Patrick, “I’ll be really honest, I don’t feel I got a lot of experience with how to pass or the draft so much. I was able to hang with the group but I guess I learned being too tight is pretty detrimental.

“If you can’t keep your foot in it right up behind cars you’re going to struggle to make moves.’’

Patrick said the biggest lesson she learned is that the outside lane is where she wants to be to start the race. And Gibson said he would entertain the notion.

The pole-sitter gets to chose whether he -- or she -- starts on the inside or outside.

“Obviously, we’ll see who’s starting around us, but I will say the top is probably where you want to restart based on what we’ve seen this week and last week,’’ Gibson said. “We’ll sit down and talk about it, but I’d say we’ll probably start on the outside.’’

Kevin Harvick, who won Duel 1, will start on the inside of the second row. Kyle Busch, who won Duel 2, will start on the outside of the second row.

Regardless, Gibson and Patrick were pleased with the performance on the car. The only major glitch on the day was a tachometer malfunction, but Patrick handled that seamlessly without getting a speed road penalty despite no way to gauge how fast she was going.

And it is how fast she’s been going that encourages the team most. She has consistently had the fastest practice laps -- including a 10-lap average -- in addition to turning one of the fastest pole-winning laps (196.434 mph) since NASCAR instituted restrictor plates at its superspeedways.

“I think if you’ve got a fast race car, anybody is going to draft with you,” Gibson said. “That’s just how this deal works. If you’ve got a fast car and can move forward they’re going to use you as a pick to pull ‘em and push ‘em and all that.

“If our car’s fast, anybody will draft with us. … Whether you’re a rookie or a champion, you can wreck one of these things. People are going to use whoever they’ve got to use to get to the front no matter who it is. If we’re fast, people will use us.’’

Two practices are scheduled for Friday with a final session Saturday to tune the cars and do any further experimenting with the draft.

“You can’t relax at all yet, you can wreck with three cars on the race track,’’ Gibson said. “My nerves will be calmed down a little bit Saturday afternoon when practice is over and that car’s in one piece.

“It’s a pretty big deal for our company and us to make sure we lead the field down in the Daytona 500.”

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