Danica Patrick emerged from her bright green No. 10 car Sunday night with a smile.
No, she didn't win. Not even close.
She finished five laps down in 30th place in NASCAR's longest race, the Coca-Cola 600. That hardly mattered to Patrick, who completed her third Sprint Cup race without wrecking, another step in the right direction in her new stock car racing career.
"This is still good experience for me and that's what this is all about," Patrick said.
Patrick says she got nostalgic earlier in the day watching the Indianapolis 500 on television and is considering running both races in the same day at some point. For now, Patrick is done with Sprint Cup racing for a while. Her next race is Aug. 25 at Bristol.
Patrick was never a factor to win the Coca-Cola 600 — not that she expected to be.
"For me I have so much to learn," she said.
Crew Chief Greg Zipadelli is confident Patrick is improving with each race, although many don't realize how difficult the transition is from IndyCar.
"It's hard," Zipadelli said. "You can't throw somebody to the wolves and expect. ... I mean, we really picked some hard races for her."
This was her best Sprint Cup finish.
The Nationwide Series regular finished 38th in the Daytona 500 and 31st at the Southern 500 in Darlington, S.C. in her previous two Cup races.
"She had a great attitude and got better," Zipadelli said. "Here and at Darlington, who would have thought we would get all of those green flag runs? We started a little tight but we needed to be conservative. But I think she improved throughout the day and throughout the weekend."
On a couple of occasions Patrick got nudged out of the way by faster cars.
"There were a couple of times out there it felt like it was a little unnecessary, but at the same time I'm new," Patrick said. "That's the way it goes. ... I'm prepared completely to get out of the way of the lead-lap cars."
Patrick said she's biding her time for now and just trying to gain experience.
"I'm going to run it smart," she said. "There's going to be a time and place for everything and this is not the time for me to prove anything. It's a time for me to learn."
Patrick said she had a conservative game plan going in, but hopes to be more aggressive in the future.
"Now that I'm getting more comfortable in certain situations it's time to start testing those waters and freeing the car up a little bit and seeing what we can get out of it," Patrick said.
As for running the Coca-Cola 600 and Indianapolis 500 on the same day, Patrick said it's something she will consider.
"Yes. I think it's doable," Patrick said. "It's been done. It would be difficult if it's a hot day. But by no means is it impossible. I watched it all start this morning and it was the first time I had that feeling like I wish I was there. The rest of the time I haven't had that. I could picture myself on the straightaway, and there for introductions.... I think it's doable and if it's possible in the future I would love to do it."