Patrick saves her car for 500 start

Danica Patrick was teasing us all along.

Patrick promised to mix it up during the first Budweiser Duel qualifying race on Thursday. But the polesitter for Sunday’s Daytona 500 never led a lap. She quickly fell out of the lead pack in the first few circuits and after 10 laps was 22nd in the field.

After the 60-lap exercise, Patrick finished 17th in her qualifier — not that it matters since she’s locked in to the pole position.

“Yeah, it’s not an exciting mission when you’ve just got to bring it home,” Patrick said. “But, it is for the Daytona 500, so you’ve got to keep that in mind. I learned that the outside (line) is strong and it carries a lot of good momentum.

“And then I learned that you need some friends. I also learned that you can’t be too tight because that outside is what’s good but you can’t be too tight, which mine was. It was way too tight at the start. But we wanted to be conservative. We didn’t want to have any issues with the GoDaddy car. We wanted to make sure we’ve got it on that front row for Sunday."

Patrick acknowledged that her afternoon was far from scintillating. With the exception of her tachometer breaking — which made it impossible to ascertain her speed on pit road — Patrick had no major mechanical issues.

“I knew there was something wrong and then when I got out there on the track it showed I was going 10,000 rpm,” Patrick said. “I’m sure I’d love to have the kind of speed that comes with 10,000 rpm gives you, but it wasn’t right. So, it’s good to get those little bugs out of the way. We’ll fix them and be solid for Sunday.”

For crew chief Tony Gibson, surviving the Duel was the goal for his rookie driver.

“The important thing is the car is in one piece for Sunday,” Gibson said. “She learned what she needed to learn, but the car is in one piece for the big race. We’ll tear the car down and change everything out, the tachometer obviously too, and do some practice on Friday and Saturday.

“It’s always a challenge to get through the Duels clean and we did that.”

Patrick will make her second Daytona 500 start on Sunday. Last year the No. 10 Chevrolet barely made it to the second lap before she was collected in a wreck. Patrick soldiered home in an ill-handling car and finished 38th, 64 laps down.