Danica Patrick more respected by fellow drivers after the Daytona 500 image

Danica Patrick’s historic eighth-place run in Sunday’s Daytona 500 – the best finish ever for a woman in NASCAR’s biggest race – made her crew chief Tony Gibson exclaim: “Who says girls can’t race?”

Patrick, who also became the first woman in history to lead the Daytona 500 (twice for five laps) thanked the fans celebrating her accomplishment and appreciated Gibson’s praise. However, she couldn’t help but wonder what could have been, as she was third with one lap remaining.

“I would imagine that pretty much anyone would kick themselves and say what could I have, should I have done to give myself that opportunity to win. I think that’s what I was feeling today, was uncertainty as to how I was going to accomplish that,” Patrick was quoted as saying by NASCAR.com.

Her driving made other drivers respect her even more than before. “I didn’t even think about it being Danica, but just another car on the track that was fast and I think that’s a credit to her,’’ Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson said of running alongside her for much of the race.

Earnhardt and third-place finisher Mark Martin, who both passed her on the final lap, say they were impressed with her effort. They insisted she proved herself as capable as any of the other drivers.

“She’s going to make a lot of history all year long. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch her progress. I think she’s done her best work in the Cup car myself. I think for whatever reason she seems to get a lot more out of that car,” Earnhardt said.