Danica cherishes Daytona experience

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- For Danica Patrick, Sunday's Daytona 500 had many historical firsts, but she said an accomplishment that wasn't a first was the one she cherished -- becoming one of only 13 drivers to lead a lap in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500.

"Of all the statistical stuff, I felt that was the biggest one of the weekend," Patrick said Friday at Phoenix International Raceway, site of this week's NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races. "While I'm honored to be the first woman to do something, to fall into a historical stat that is a small group of other drivers, not about male or female, that's something I aspire to as a driver."

Patrick was the first woman to sit on the pole at the Daytona 500 and raced near the front all day, leading a total of five laps and finishing eighth. She is the only woman to lead a lap in the 500.

But it was the last lap of the race, when she fell from third to eighth in the draft shuffle, that stuck with her as much and still bugs her.

"I was frustrated I didn't have a better plan," Patrick said. "I didn't have grasp of how to shoot for a better finish. But it really helped teach me what happens at the end of [restrictor-plate] races. [Dale Earnhardt] Junior [who finished second] is really good at those races, knowing how to set things up."

Patrick also was asked Friday to compare her performance Sunday to her 2005 Indy 500, when she led the race and finished fourth as a rookie.

"I'm a little more mature now," Patrick said. "In 2005, it was a more ongoing excitement level. But I kind of understand the ebb and flow of racing better now. These things come and go. Last weekend was what it was, but we're moving on. This is when the real season starts."

Patrick also said she received kind words from Tony Stewart, her team owner, and Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson after the race.

"Tony said, 'You had more to lose in your position than you had to gain,'" Patrick said. "Jimmie told me I did a nice job. He said in both his wins he didn't have a plan. You just have to take it on the fly. But to have those guys say that, on some level, [that] I make good decisions at the end was really nice."