DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - As crewmembers repaired her battered No. 10 Chevrolet for loading into a hauler, Danica Patrick walked toward the bright light of a large flatscreen TV on an adjacent trailer.
Tying her hair back in a ponytail while a crowd of reporters waited, Patrick watched several replays of a last-lap wreck in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
The verdict on her involvement in the multicar crash was incomplete, just like much of her night in a 14th-place finish on the 2.5-mile oval.
"It felt like I just ran along the wall, but it looked like it could have been me that came down in front of (David Gilliland), it definitely wasn't what I was trying to do at all," she said. "I was just following (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), so if that's what happened, I definitely apologize. I lost spots doing it. All in all, a solid day.
"I felt like we were a little slow to get going, but I think that we made the car better, and I felt I figured out some things that got the GoDaddy car in a decent position. We ran strong, and that's what we wanted to do."
Unlike the Daytona 500 when she qualified on the pole position, led five laps and stayed in the lead pack throughout on the way to an eighth-place finish, Patrick slowly worked her way to the front Saturday after starting 11th and quickly plummeting out of the top 20.
But she caught a break when a pit stop just before a Lap 71 caution flag catapulted her Chevrolet into the top 10, and Patrick stayed there for much of the final 200 miles. She ran as high as second behind winner Jimmie Johnson on Lap 108.
"She did a really good job," crew chief Tony Gibson said. "We really didn't get the finish that we wanted, but it can always be worse. We got fast cars, and she can draft the hell out of these things. One of these times we're going to get the opportunity when we're in the right line at the right time and take advantage of it."
It was the Stewart-Haas Racing driver's fourth top 15 of the season, and her fifth in 10 stock-car starts at Daytona (encompassing the ARCA, Nationwide and Sprint Cup series).
"This is where her comfort zone is," Gibson said. "It comes from the IndyCar deal I'm sure, knowing where the air is and how to work that and the drafting, so yeah, it's definitely in her wheelhouse.
"We were a solid top 10 car for three-quarters of the race, so I feel like our speed was just as good as in (the Daytona 500). The car was locked down good. It was just a matter of being in the right line at the right time. She felt like being on the bottom was not the place to be at the end, because it took a lap or two to get up to speed where the outside could get some momentum for a lap or two."
On the final restart, Patrick was in ninth but tucked in behind Earnhardt and worked up the middle lane before swinging to the outside. She seemed headed toward a top 10 before the contact began off Turn 4, sending Patrick sliding across the finish line.
After vowing to be more assertive in the third restrictor-plate race of the season, Patrick said her aggression was evident in the two-lap shootout.
"I think that I did make a run," she said. "It didn't end up like I wanted by all means, I just needed to follow (Earnhardt) on the top to the line, but I think it was all right."
Said Gibson: "Sometimes it hurts you, but you have to make moves and be aggressive. She was aggressive when she needed to be. I'm happy with our finish, though I wish we wouldn't have wrecked. It could have been a lot worse."