By Simon Evans
DAYTONA BEACH (Reuters) - Danica Patrick's Daytona 500 debut was practically over within two laps but the 29-year-old got back on track to finish as just the third woman to race NASCAR's top event.
Patrick's car was damaged as she span off the track on the second circuit when she was caught up in a five-car crash and she had to return to the garage.
By the time the car was ready to rejoin the action, the race had reached the 66th lap and with Patrick not eligible for championship points due to her limited schedule there was nothing competitive to race for.
However, the diminutive racer was sure she could get something out of getting back involved in the pack.
"People were working hard to get me back on the track. Was there much to gain as far as position wise? No. But what there was to gain was for me to get the experience of running out there," she told reporters after finishing in 38th place.
"I ran in packs for a little while, the car was a little bent-up so it didn't feel perfect. As it got later and later in the race, I just didn't want to play a part, didn't want to have an influence on it," she added.
There was little Patrick could do to avoid the collision which also put out five-times NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and last year's winner Trevor Bayne.
"I think that I picked up a lot of good tips but I just wish that the beginning of the race had been a nice single file like it was when I got back out there but it wasn't," she said.
Patrick will compete fully in NASCAR's second tier Nationwide series as well as ten top Sprint Cup races after switching over from open-wheel IndyCar racing.
Her presence in the field caused one slight adjustment to the normal Daytona 500 protocol with the race starter's announcement altered to "Lady and Gentlemen, start your engines."
(Editing by John O'Brien)