Danica Patrick (10) leads the field at the start of the Budweiser Duel 1 Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. / Sam Sharpe, USA TODAY Sports
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Like a gambler who goes to bed at 8 p.m. in Las Vegas, Thursday's Daytona 500 qualifying race was no fun for Danica Patrick.
Patrick, the first woman to win a pole in the Sprint Cup Series, finished 17th in her Budweiser Duel race after falling to the back and racing conservatively for much of the 150-mile event.
But in doing so, Patrick made sure she preserved her car - and thus her No. 1 starting position - for Sunday's Daytona 500.
"Just trying to stay out of trouble," she said. "It's not a lot of fun to drop back like that, but it's the right thing to do. It's more important to start on the pole for the Daytona 500 than to get those last few laps of chaos."
The Duels set the starting field for the Daytona 500, though Patrick's position had already been secured thanks to her pole position win on Sunday.
There had been debate over what Patrick should do, even up to the minute she climbed in her car: Should the rookie engage in Daytona's tricky draft in an attempt to get more experience, or should she make sure she stayed out of trouble at all costs?
Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas suggested Patrick start the race and then quit after a few laps, since she was guaranteed to start first unless she crashed.
"He's like, 'Man, can we start-and-park?'" crew chief Tony Gibson said. "I'm like, well, I really don't want to."
Gibson said he knew it was frustrating for Patrick to simply ride around in the back of the field - she didn't lead a lap and finished 6.2 seconds behind race winner Kevin Harvick - because "she's a go-getter, man."
"She's a mash-the-gas-and-get-after-it (driver)," he said. "But today we just had to see how the race unfolded and look after our race car."
While Patrick's absence from the draft meant she didn't learn much about how her car would handle in pack-racing conditions, she knew one thing: The outside lane seemed to be far faster than the bottom.
As the pole-sitter, Patrick can choose to start on the outside instead of the inside if she wants - although she didn't know that immediately following the Duel.
"Do I have to start on the inside on Sunday?" she asked reporters. "I'm not really sure. Where does the pole start? The outside is looking pretty nice."
Gibson said they would discuss the option as a team, but said Patrick would "probably start on the outside."
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said the most important part of Thursday's second Budweiser Duel was bringing his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford back to the paddock in one piece.
As Stenhouse debriefed with crew chief Scott Graves and team owner Jack Roush, girlfriend Patrick stood atop her hauler talking to her dad, T.J. With Stenhouse's 14th-place finish, both are assured starting positions in Sunday's 500.
Patrick's parents, T.J. and Bev Patrick of Indianapolis, watched Thursday's first qualifying race from the top of the green-and-black GoDaddy.com hauler in the paddock.
"It's all been positive," T.J. Patrick said. "Everybody here is receptive to her and respects her. I don't think it's that big of a surprise to anybody."
T.J. Patrick said the pole position has created more interest among young girls. "I have friends who say now their daughters want to race," he said. "Either they're mad at me or they're happy, one of the two."
One of the most common reactions when fans first see Danica Patrick is her 5-foot, 100-pound frame.
"Whenever people see her for the first time, they say, 'She's so small," Patrick said. "But I think that lets people know - especially young girls - that they can follow their dreams."
Contributing: Jeff Olson
Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com
Read the original story: Danica Patrick eases up during Duel to keep Daytona pole