Although the race saw her finish at a personally disappointing 8th place, Patrick’s run in today’s race is noted more for her historic contributions to the sport.
The first woman to win the pole position, Patrick also became the first woman to lead the race. She ran inside the top 10 for almost the entire race, kept pace with the field and perhaps most importantly, never panicked on the track.
Her only noted mistakes noted were on pit road, where she got beat on the race back to the track, and on the race’s final lap, when her third-place position suddenly ended and she fell to eighth. That's going to stick with Patrick for some time.
"I would imagine pretty much anyone would be kicking themselves about what they could have, should have done to give themselves an opportunity to win," she said. "I think that's what I was feeling today, was uncertainty as to how I was going to accomplish that."
There were several multicar crashes, but none of them approached the magnitude of the wreck that injured over two dozen fans in the grandstand at the end of the second-tier Nationwide Series race on the same track a day earlier.
Several drivers said the accident and concern for the fans stuck with them overnight and into Sunday morning, and Johnson was quick to send his thoughts from Victory Lane.
"I just want to give a big shout-out to all the fans, and I also want to send my thoughts and prayers out to everybody that was injured in the grandstands," Jimmie Johnson said.
The race itself, the debut for NASCAR's new Gen-6 car, was quite similar to all the other Cup races during Speedweeks in that the cars seemed to line up in a single-file parade along the top groove of the track. It made the 55th running of the Daytona 500 relatively uneventful.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. wound up second for the third time in the last four years.
And when all was said and done, Jimmie Johnson was the lucky driver holding the trophy at the end.
"Man, it's like playing the lottery; everybody's got a ticket," he said. "I've struck out a lot at these tracks, left with torn-up race cars. Today we had a clean day."
Mark Martin was third in a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. Keselowski, who overcame two accidents earlier in the race, wound up fourth in Penske Racing's new Ford. Ryan Newman was fifth in a Chevy for Stewart-Haas Racing and was followed by Roush-Fenway Racing's Greg Biffle, who was second on the last lap but was shuffled back with Patrick to finish sixth.
In addition to her top-ten performance, Patrick became the first woman in history to lead laps in the 500 when she passed Michael Waltrip on a restart on Lap 90. She stayed on the point for two laps, then was shuffled back to third. She ended up leading five laps, another groundbreaking moment for Patrick, who as a rookie in 2005 became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and now is the 13th driver to lead laps in both the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500.