(credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

By: Farrah Kaye

In a Daytona 500 that saw fire, rain and a Monday night start, Danica Patrick’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup series start didn’t go as planned.

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During her Gatorade Duel, Patrick was involved in a last-lap wreck with former teammate Aric Almirola and was forced to go to a backup car for her big debut. She pressed on during the weekend, taking the pole for the Nationwide series race. Unfortunately, she was involved in a wreck with teammate Cole Whitt early on in the race and finished 38th, which seemed to be her lucky number for the weekend.

Going to the backup car and being forced to start in the back didn’t matter, as she was caught up in a lap two crash when Jimmie Johnson was tapped in the left rear by Elliott Sadler and Patrick was caught up in the wreckage, along with defending Daytona 500 Champion Trevor Bayne, David Ragan and Kurt Busch.

Patrick headed to the garage until lap 65 and her bondo-covered car took to the track to participate in the most bizarre Daytona 500 ever, which included Ryan Newman losing a wheel on pit road (causing an unsuspecting A.J. Allmendinger to run into the back of him), Jeff Gordon blowing up on lap 82, Martin Truex Jr. getting the “halfway leader bonus” and eventually Juan Pablo Montoya crashing into a jet dryer under caution, causing a red flag that lasted over two hours.

Under a yellow flag, Montoya said he “felt something strange” in his car and the next thing he knew, his car was turning into the jet dryer. Both he and the driver of the jet dryer escaped without injury, but with a full tank of gas, the entire area exploded in flames. The fire was so hot Montoya’s helmet melted.

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With 42 laps left, Patrick’s car kept the pace and eventually she finished 38th. Despite the early accident and poor finish, Patrick took away good lessons for the future and says she’ll be back a stronger competitor.

“It’s disappointing. I would have loved to have gotten a great finish. I would have loved to have been able to run on the lead lap there at the end. I feel bad for disappointing my fans who were cheering for me; especially going out so early. But I’ll come back stronger.”

Overall, Patrick said she feels good about her debut.

“Everything from running good in the Duels to crashing on the last lap, to qualifying on the pole, to running well in the Nationwide to crashing; and a lot of this stuff obviously is out of your control at times and that’s kind of the exciting time about Daytona and big tracks is that anything can happen and will happen as we’ve seen,” Patrick said. “But I learned a lot. I got a lot of experience and I’m really proud of the crew putting the car back together. They had to do some welding and whatnot. But I got back out there. It felt all right considering the fact that they were welding; I think it felt really good.”

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Matt Kenseth went on to win the first Daytona 500 not run on a Sunday, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Mark Martin.

Farrah Kaye is a NASCAR columnist for CBS Local Sports and is a member of the NMPA. Her previous articles have appeared on SPEEDtv.com, newsweek.com and she holds a degree in Journalism. Follow her on Twitter @Farrah_Kaye.