Continued from page 1

Patrick knows all about how miserable it can be driving in the back of the field, with no serious chance for the checkered flag. Her average start was 36th and her average finish was 28th in her 10 Cup races last season. She got caught in a crash on just the second lap of her Daytona 500 debut last season and finished 38th.

Patrick has struggled in three NASCAR seasons and has never finished better than 17th. She made the fulltime jump to the top series this season.

Her chance to show what she could do racing up front from the start never got going.

“It’s not fun racing like that, I know it’s not a lot of fun for her,” Gibson said. “Our car’s in one piece for now.”

Patrick is the fresh face of NASCAR heading into the series’ season-opener. She signed autographs without slowing a step as she whisked through the fan zone on her way to the hauler. Patrick fans camped out on seats atop the garage and yelled, “Danica, we love you!” as she went to the hauler.

She’s handled the pressure of the pole with the same ease she handled the No. 10. Patrick said Thursday’s run was comparable to a test session.

If she keeps the top spot until Sunday, all she’ll need to do is pick where she’ll race, not when to drop back

“Do I have to start on the inside on Sunday? I’m not really sure,” she said. “Where does the pole start? The outside looked pretty nice.”

___

Follow Dan Gelston online: https://twitter.com/APGelston and http://racing.ap.org