“The good thing, with a fluorescent green car, she's easy to pick out,” Stewart said. “I saw in the mirror on the last lap, saw her car making a hard left there.”
Patrick, who was running her first Sprint Cup race, went spinning off the track after getting hit by Aric Almirola, sending her Chevrolet sliding across the backstretch grass and slamming into the inside wall. Dana Patrick Indy 500,
Patrick’s crash brought out a caution flag that helped Stewart hold off Earnhardt Jr. and win the race.
Patrick, who had run in the lead pack early in the race, was running in the inside lane at the rear of the field when Almirola cut down the track and slammed into her. The impact with the wall caused her car to lift off the ground. Danica Patrick Crash Video
“It happened really quick,” said Patrick, who was uninjured by the hard impact. “When it gets down to the end of the race everyone is on each other’s doors really close, and unfortunately I was part of it.”
Stewart gambled on fuel and held the lead after most of the leaders pitted under caution on lap 54 of the 60-lap race.
Edwards and Earnhardt Jr. both charged into the lead on lap 58, but Stewart swept back around them on lap 59.
Earnhardt Jr. was mounting another charge on the backstretch when Patrick and Almirola crashed, bringing out a caution flag and ending the race before the checkered flag.
Despite dropping to the rear of the field during the final charge, Patrick said she was running well before the crash.
“I thought I was having at least a solid race,” she said. “I had worked my way up there at the beginning a little bit and hung around the front group a while.
“Then I began to slow down and was trying to brake a little bit just to keep up with the pack and not run up to them too quickly. … You’re just looking to finish, and unfortunately that was not the case. [The crash] felt pretty big.”
Patrick, the former IndyCar star who is switching to NASCAR full-time this year, said she felt comfortable in the draft in her first Sprint Cup race. She will start near the rear of the field in her first Daytona 500.
“I felt good, I felt comfortable,” she said. “It was just a matter of getting in the right line with the right people and in the fast lane. It was hard to get past that sort of mid-pack range.
“I felt like if I could have gotten up there, it would have been better. …. I’m just bummed out. Two corners to go and the Go Daddy car is in the wall. … Maybe the backup car will be faster.”
Stewart was impressed by what he saw of Patrick in her first Cup race.
“It was impressive to see how she kept picking her way through the field,” he said.
Stewart, meanwhile, established himself as the early favorite to win the Daytona 500 for the first time. The three-time Cup champion has won 17 stock-car races at Daytona, but never the big one.
“The fact that we've won 17 times here and not won on the right day is proof it's good momentum, but it's no guarantee, obviously,” said Stewart, who finished second in last week’s Budweiser Shootout.
“It's good momentum for the crew, everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing, to carry that momentum from last year. … I think we showed the rest of the field that we have a car that has good speed.”
Stewart, who led 21 laps, hopes his performance Thursday also sends another message to the 43-car field – that he’s the guy to draft with Sunday.
“I want those guys to see that we've got strength,” Stewart said. “That's why everybody wanted to run with [Daytona 500 winner] Trevor [Bayne] last year during the 500, because he showed a lot of strength.
“I think it's an advantage to do that at this point of the game, showing that guys want to be around you and know that you’ve got a car that can stay up there.”
The race featured only one big wreck. It occurred on lap 10 when McDowell got into the back of David Gilliland and sent him spinning into the outside wall. Gilliland’s Ford collected the cars of Juan Pablo Montoya and Paul Menard, sending them all crashing hard into the wall.
After the wreck, the field settled down, with Denny Hamlin and Stewart leading a single-file draft at the front of the pack while Earnhardt Jr., Patrick, Edwards and defending Daytona 500 winner Bayne riding at the rear of the field.
The field was riding in a single-file line and headed for a fuel-mileage finish until Michael Waltrip, who needed to race his way into the field, crashed by himself in Turn 2 on lap 53. Waltrip had just pitted for fuel and wrecked while trying to get his car back up to speed.