DAYTONA BEACH — Danica Patrick didn't give herself a chance to win. She's saving that push for the Daytona 500.
Patrick had an easy choice in her first race since winning the pole Sunday. All she had to do to preserve the top spot was keep the No. 10 Chevy intact during Thursday's first qualifier. She did that, starting on the pole before finishing 17th among 23 drivers.
"I suppose there's a sense of relief," she said of keeping the pole. "But at the same point in time, I'm a race car driver. And it's not fun to have to protect and be careful and be cautious and drop back at times."
Before the race, car owner Gene Haas suggested — perhaps, jokingly — Patrick park after two laps. Not a chance.
"We really just wanted to run probably 10 or 15 laps and be in the pack; be in front," crew chief Tony Gibson said. "Once we got into a stalemate, we fell back. The inside line wasn't moving, and it was just time to get out."
Patrick can't rest easy quite yet, not with practices today and Saturday. Any wreck could send her to the back of the field.
Said Gibson: "My nerves will be calmed down a little bit Saturday afternoon when practice is over and our car's in one piece."
Patrick's debriefing was, well, brief. She said the car had a tachometer issue and she enjoyed taking the outside lane.
"I hate coming to the end like that and just lagging back," she said. "But it's also really ignorant to go drive up into the pack and be part of an accident for absolutely no reason."
Again?!? Carl Edwards has crashed four times at Daytona this year. No. 4 came during the first qualifier, when Denny Hamlin's Toyota got sideways and turned the Ford into the wall. That came one day after Ryan Newman's Chevy turned across the nose of Edwards' car.
After finishing 22nd in the qualifier, Edwards will drive the car he used for Saturday's Sprint Unlimited exhibition race.
"We're getting it out of our system," said Edwards, who also crashed at testing in January and at practice last week. "Fortunately, we have a really good group of guys and have a good backup car."
Big run: Juan Pablo Montoya pitted for minor repairs during the caution prompted by Edwards' crash. He restarted 13th with four laps left but sped through the field to finish third.
Spot earned: Austin Dillon, grandson of team owner Richard Childress, took third in the second qualifier to get into the field. It will be his first Daytona 500.
"I'm glad my grandfather can sleep now," Dillon, 22, said. "He was wearing me out before the race."
Quotable: "There's a lot of people up in Connecticut with a smile on their face right now. I'm real proud to get in the race for them." — Michael Waltrip, who earned a spot driving the No. 26 Toyota with a Sandy Hook Special Support Fund paint scheme as a tribute to the 26 people killed in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.
Night racing: The qualifiers will be run in prime time starting next year. The 2014 races will be Feb. 20 and air on a still-to-be determined Fox affiliate.
11: Daytona 500 practice
12:30: Daytona 500 practice
1:40: NASCAR trucks qualifying (two laps, all positions)
3:35: Nationwide qualifying (two laps, all positions)
7:30: Trucks NextEra Energy 250 (100 laps, 250 miles) TV: Speed
10:30: Daytona 500 practice
1:15: Nationwide DRIVE4COPD 300 (120 laps, 300 miles) TV: ESPN
1: Sprint Cup Daytona 500 (200 laps, 500 miles). TV: Ch. 13