For 499 miles, Danica Patrick did nearly everything right at the Daytona 500.
She avoided a pair of big wrecks and put herself in a position to win NASCAR’s season-opening, blockbuster race at Daytona Beach, Fla.
Yet, racing third behind veteran Jimmie Johnson on the final lap, Patrick faded quickly and allowed a handful of competitors beat her to the checkered flag as she finished eighth.
The 30-year-old Wisconsin-born driver said she can’t be unhappy with her performance.
“You spend a lot of time thinking about what to do when the time comes,” Patrick said of her chance to win, CBS Sports reported. “At the end of the day, it was a solid day.”
It was still a historic turn for Patrick and NASCAR, her finish the best ever for a woman at The Great American Race. She also won pole position, another female first, as the fastest driver in qualifying.
It allowed her to begin the race from position No. 1, and even though she quickly relinquished the lead right after the white flag appeared, Patrick proved she has talent to win in the often macho world of muscle cars.
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By staying out of trouble, Patrick went on to become the first woman to lead Daytona, setting the pace for five of the 200 laps.
This is her second year — and first full season — racing stock cars after a successful career as an open-wheel IndyCar driver. Patrick's finish was best since Janet Guthrie's 11th-place result in 1980.
Johnson, however, held on for his second victory at Daytona.
“I had a lot of confidence leading the train,” Johnson said at CNN.com. “I knew I had a fast car.”
The race started on schedule hours after Saturday’s horrific crash during a tune-up race at Daytona.
Roughly 30 people were hurt when 12 cars wrecked in the final turn. Kyle Larson’s car severed, and debris sprayed through a fence and 20 feet into the crowd.
Larson’s engine broke through the safety barriers.
“The damn car went through the fence. It shattered everywhere,” spectator Travis Smith told USA Today.
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