Danica Patrick not satisfied with Daytona finish

Danica Patrick turned in the best finish by a woman in the

Daytona 500.

Still, she’s beating herself up a little bit after fading on the

final lap.

With one lap to go, Patrick was running third behind Jimmie

Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. The crowd was going nuts, hoping the

pole-sitter could somehow pull out an improbable win.

All of a sudden, Patrick’s inexperience in stock cars showed as

her No. 10 car slipped back to eighth. Johnson held off Earnhardt

to win the Great American Race.

”I would imagine pretty much anyone would be kicking themselves

about what they coulda, shoulda have done to give themselves an

opportunity to win,” she said. ”There was uncertainty on how to

accomplish that.”

Patrick led three times for a total of five laps, and she ran in

the top 10 most of the day. It wasn’t that strenuous, either,

giving her a time to chat on the radio with her crew chief and

spotter, picking their brains on strategy at the end of the

race.

”How am I gonna do this?” Patrick recalled thinking. ”I

didn’t know what to do exactly. Maybe that’s just my inexperience.

Maybe it was not me thinking hard enough. I’m not sure. I was a

little bit uncertain how to do that.”

Before Sunday, Janet Guthrie was the highest-finishing woman in

the 500. She was 11th in 1980.

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

JIMMIE THE SALESMAN: Jimmie Johnson is a heck of a driver.

He’s not a bad salesman, either.

After winning the Daytona 500 for the second time, Johnson gave

a shoutout to his sponsor Lowe’s, the home improvement chain.

”Spring’s coming,” the five-time Cup champion said. ”Go buy

some stuff.”

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

JOHNSON WINS THE 500: Jimmie Johnson has won the Daytona 500 for

the second time.

Johnson held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. to become the 10th driver

with multiple wins in ”The Great American Race.”

Danica Patrick was running third heading to the final lap, but

she dropped back to eighth as everyone jostled for position.

Still, it was the highest finish ever for a woman in NASCAR’s

signature event. Janet Guthrie finished 11th in 1980.

Johnson, a five-time champion, also won the 500 in 2006. But

he’s had some tough finishes in recent years, including a

42nd-place flameout in 2012.

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

RACE TO THE END: The Daytona 500 is heading for a thrilling

finish.

Jimmie Johnson leads and Danica Patrick is still in the mix

after a late caution flag for debris on the track in turn two.

When the green flag came out with six laps to go, Johnson was

followed by defending Cup champion Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin,

Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer. Patrick is running sixth.

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

DOWN THE STRETCH: Defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski

leads the Daytona 500 with 20 laps to go.

He’s followed by Jimmie Johnson, Marcus Ambrose, Greg Biffle,

Denny Hamlin and Danica Patrick.

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

KENSETH OUT: There won’t be a repeat winner at the Daytona

500.

Defending champ Matt Kenseth had led more laps than anyone when,

suddenly, his car began smoking on lap 149. He headed to pit road

and it didn’t take long for the crew to push him behind the wall,

ruining any hopes of becoming the first back-to-back winner since

Sterling Marlin in 1994-95.

Kenseth and his new teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch

and Denny Hamlin, were actually running 1-2-3 when Kenseth had some

sort of engine or transmission problem. Just two laps later,

Busch’s car also went out, smoking as well, sending the driver of

the No. 18 machine storming through the garage, ripping off his

racesuit.

”It’s really unfortunate,” Busch said. ”We were running 1-2-3

and it felt like we were dropping like flies. Something inside the

motor broke that’s not supposed to break. It’s a little devastating

when you’re running 1-2-3 like that. Hopefully the No. 11 (Hamlin)

can bring it home.”

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

EDWARDS’ TOUGH MONTH: No one will be more eager than Carl

Edwards to get out of Daytona.

The No. 99 team had a brutal month leading up to the NASCAR

season opener, wrecking four times.

Make it five.

Edwards was caught up in a crash heading into turn one at the

Daytona 500, another case of simply being in the wrong place at the

wrong time. Trevor Bayne bumped Brad Keselowski from behind, which

sent the No. 21 car sliding sideways.

With nowhere to go, Edwards was sent into the outside wall.

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

SMOKE STEAMS: Tony Stewart has returned to the track at the

Daytona 500.

But he’s pretty much assured of going 0-for-15 in NASCAR’s

biggest race.

Stewart was 82 laps behind the leaders when he rolled out of the

garage after an early crash. His frustration was never more evident

than when he joined in the repair effort, banging on his No. 14 car

with a hammer during the long stint in the paddock.

”To hell with the season,” Stewart said. ”I wanted to win the

Daytona 500. We had a car that we could pass with today. We were

passing cars by ourselves. I was so happy with our car, was just

waiting for it to all get sorted out again. I don’t know what

started it, but we just got caught up in another wreck.”

Stewart’s misfortune came a day after he won the lower-division

Nationwide race – his 19th career triumph at Daytona.

None of them have come in the race he really wants.

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

FAMILIAR SPOT: Matt Kenseth is back in a familiar spot.

Leading the Daytona 500.

Kenseth was running out front at the 100-lap mark, halfway

through the biggest NASCAR race of the season.

While there’s nothing unusual about Kenseth leading at Daytona,

where he’s won two of the last three years, it’s a bit jarring to

see him doing it in the No. 20 car.

Kenseth had spent his entire Cup career driving the No. 17

machine for Roush Fenway Racing, but he switched to Joe Gibbs

Racing this season. He’s got a new car, a new number, a new sponsor

and a new team.

But he still knows how to run strong at Daytona.

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

DANICAMANIA: Danica Patrick keeps making history.

The first woman to start from the pole at the Daytona 500 has

become the first female to lead a lap in a NASCAR Cup race.

Patrick sent the huge crowd into a frenzy when she snatched the

lead from Michael Waltrip on lap 90 after a series of pit stops

under yellow. She led two laps before Denny Hamlin surged to the

front.

But Patrick has shown her qualifying run was no fluke. She’s got

a strong car and has been in the top 10 all day as the 200-lap race

approaches the midway point.

Patrick switched to NASCAR last year after becoming the first

woman to lead laps at the Indianapolis 500, as well as being the

first to win an IndyCar race.

Now, she’s looking for a win in NASCAR’s biggest event.

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

AWKWARD: Rapper 50 Cent wasn’t content just chatting up Erin

Andrews.

He went in for a kiss.

Rebuffed.

In the strangest part of the buildup to the Daytona 500, Mr.

Cent brought back memories of Joe Namath’s awkward attempt to plant

one on Suzy Kolber when he tried the same move with Andrews on pit

road.

She turned her head one way, then the other, only allowing the

”Candy Shop” rapper to get a peck on the cheek.

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

BIG CRASH: We’ve had the first big wreck of the Daytona 500.

And a bunch of top contenders have seen their chances go up in

smoke.

Former 500 winners Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Jamie

McMurray were caught up in the crash on lap 33. So was defending

Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski.

The melee began coming through the tri-oval when Kasey Kahne’s

car began to slide across the track after appearing to get bumped

from behind by Kyle Busch.

At least two other drivers also got caught up in the mess: Juan

Pablo Montoya and Casey Mears. Joey Logano made a great move to

dodge the spinning cars.

Pole sitter Danica Patrick made it through unscathed and remains

near the front of the pack.

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

HANG ON TIGHT: From one defending champion to another, Brad

Keselowski had a piece of advice for Daytona 500 starter Ray

Lewis:

Don’t drop the flag.

The retired Baltimore Ravens star served as honorary starter for

the Daytona 500. Lewis waved the green flag without incident Sunday

to start the ”Great American Race.”

Lewis, who said he was nervous, got a quick tip from

Keselowski.

”Brad texted me on the way in, the one rule is, don’t drop the

flag,” Lewis said before the race. ”I’m going to squeeze the flag

very hard. I want to watch this and be a part of it. To be here is

an awesome experience.”

Lewis was one of several stars at Daytona International

Speedway. Rappers T.I. and 50 Cent attended NASCAR’s season opener,

which has Danica Patrick starting on the pole.

Oscar-nominated actor James Franco was the grand marshall and

said, ”Drivers and Danica, start your engines!” The Zac Brown

Band played a pre-race concert in the Daytona International

Speedway infield. Band member Clay Cook performed the national

anthem.

Retired baseball pitcher Tom Gordon, comedian Drew Carey, and

Wes Welker and Steve Spurrier also were in attendance.

Lewis called Keselowski on the eve of the 2012 season finale at

Homestead-Miami Speedway and left him an inspirational voice

message. Keselowski also often listens to Lewis’ motivational

speeches before races.

”I caught a glimpse of how he always watched my videos and it

really inspired him,” Lewis said. ”That’s when me and him really

started having conversations with each other, and from there it

just turned into a friendship. I send him motivational things, and

heads-up on what I am doing, that’s where the relationship has

gone.”

– Dan Gelston – http://twitter.com/APgelston

DANICA DROPS BACK: Danica Patrick made history by becoming the

first woman to start from the pole in a NASCAR Cup race.

But in the beginning of the Daytona 500, she failed to pull off

another landmark.

Choosing the outside spot on the front row, Patrick gave up the

lead to Jeff Gordon on the very first lap, missing out on an early

chance to become the first female to lead a Cup lap.

Over the first 10 laps, she settled in behind Gordon and held on

to the second spot in the 43-car field.

Patrick went on the radio before the race to thank her crew for

giving her such a strong car. ”I’ll do the best job I can to do my

end of the deal today,” she said. ”All in all, thank you for

everything. You guys are awesome.”

Later, Patrick sent the huge crowd into a frenzy when she

snatched the lead from Michael Waltrip on lap 90 after a series of

pit stops under yellow. She led two laps before Denny Hamlin surged

to the front.

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

FRANCO’S AUDIBLE: ”Drivers … and Danica!!! … start your

engines.”

With that unique command, actor James Franco has ordered the 43

cars to fire up for the Daytona 500.

The duty is normally carried out with the most famous words in

racing: ”Gentlemen, start your engines.”

Of course, this year is different. Danica Patrick is the first

woman to start from the pole in a Cup race, and Franco hinted

beforehand that he was planning an audible. As unpredictable as

ever, he passed on a chance to copy the command that was used when

Patrick raced in the Indianapolis 500, ”Lady and gentlemen, start

your engines.”

Now, it’s time to go racing at Daytona.

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

A HEARTY BUNCH: NASCAR FANS RETURN TO DANGER ZONE: Say this

about NASCAR fans: They don’t frighten easily.

One day after a harrowing crash injured dozens of fans in the

stands, those same seats are filling up for the Daytona 500.

No one seems too concerned.

”These should be good seats,” said Rick Barasso, as he settled

into a spot that was right in the danger zone when Kyle Larson’s

car slammed into the catch fencing on the final lap of a Nationwide

Series race Saturday. ”I mean, what are the chances of it

happening again?”

That seems to be the attitude of the fans heading into the

Daytona 500, the season-opening Cup race and biggest event on the

NASCAR schedule. Most people say it’s worth the risk to sit next to

the ear-rattling action – no more than 20 feet away for those in

the first row. They love to hear the engines, smell the exhaust,

and feel the wind whipping in their face as 43 cars go by at nearly

200 mph.

Still, there are a few fans fretting about the location of their

seats.

Raymond Gober returned to the same location where he was nearly

struck by a bolt from Larson’s car. He scooped up the debris as a

souvenir, though he acknowledged being a little nervous about his

seat on the back row of the lower level. He even considered wearing

his motorcycle helmet to the 500, but figured ”everybody would

start laughing at me.” Next year, he plans to buy an upper-level

seat in the main grandstand.

”My dad called and said, `You’re sitting in the same seats? ”`

Gober said. ”He couldn’t believe it.”

There are grim reminders of what happened Saturday: a bloody

spot that had been washed down (not entirely, though), a tire mark

on a seat, another seat that was partially bent from getting struck

by that same tire.

– Paul Newberry – http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

EDITOR’S NOTE – ”Daytona 500 Watch” shows you the Daytona 500

and events surrounding the race through the eyes of Associated

Press journalists. Follow them on Twitter.

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