Patrick boosted by comments from top drivers

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Danica Patrick was bummed after fading on the last lap of a historic Daytona 500.


Some kind words from owner Tony Stewart and race winner Jimmie Johnson picked up her spirits a little.


“To have somebody like Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson tell me that on some level I made good decisions out there at the very end was a really nice thing for them to say,” Patrick said from Phoenix International Raceway on Friday.


“It makes me feel a little better. I still feel like I want to have a better plan in the future, but in that moment (they said) I had made some decisions, so it was appreciated.”


In her first full season in a Sprint Cup car, Patrick became the first woman to be on the pole at the Daytona 500 and raced near the front all day, leading five laps. Coming around on the final lap, she had Johnson and Greg Biffle in front, leaving her in position to make a run for the win.


Instead, Patrick got bogged down on the outside behind Biffle and was passed by drivers on the low side, fading from third to eighth.


In her post-race meeting with Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, Patrick was told she made the right move and probably would have lost even more ground if she had tried something.


“I thought she did a great job last week,” Stewart said at PIR. “She played a very, very smart race because it’s very easy to get over-anxious and want to do better than where you’re at, and cause yourself to have a worse day. She displayed a lot of patience and that’s really hard to do. So I thought she did a great job.”


Patrick also received some more encouragement from Johnson after congratulating the five-time series champion on his second Daytona 500 win.


“He said I did a nice job, too,” Patrick said. “I said I wish I had a better plan, but thank you and I have a lot to learn. He said that the two wins he had, he didn’t have a plan and sometimes you just have to take it on the fly and work with what happens in the moment.”


Martins wins pole: Mark Martin will be on the pole at Phoenix International Raceway for the second straight year after becoming the second-oldest pole-sitter in NASCAR history.


Martin went around PIR’s mile oval at a speed of 138.075 mph Friday to earn his 56th career pole a week after finishing third in the Daytona 500.


Martin turned 54 in January, leaving him a few months short of beating Harry Gant as the oldest driver to win a Sprint Cup pole. Gant was 54 when he won his last pole at Bristol in 1994.


Kasey Kahne will start on the front row with Martin for Sunday’s 312-mile race. Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson will take the green flag in third next to Kyle Busch.


Martin started on the pole at PIR last year before finishing ninth and won from the pole in 2009. He had a solid Daytona 500 last Sunday, starting 14th and working his way to the front to make a big move on the final lap to finish behind Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.


Martin hasn’t won since Loudon in 2009.


Kahne had a disappointing Daytona 500, collected in the race’s first wreck on his way to finishing 36th after starting sixth. He’s had some success at Phoenix, though, winning the fall race in 2011 and put together a good qualifying run early in the session.


Johnson had a whirlwind tour after winning his second Daytona 500 last Sunday, hitting eight states and David Letterman’s guest chair – along with announcing a new deal with primary sponsor Lowe’s – in the four days before arriving at PIR.


Johnson cut it close on qualifying, walking back from pit road to the garage to his car, which had to go through part of the pre-qualifying inspection before being allowed out. It arrived on pit road three cars before Johnson’s turn and had a strong second lap to earn a spot on the second row.


Danica Patrick struggled with her car in practice and didn’t get it fixed for qualifying, bobbling around turns 3 and 4. She will start 40th after becoming the first woman win the pole and lead green-flag laps in a Sprint Cup race last week at the Daytona 500.


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