TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) - Danica Patrick spent time at the front, and she was still running at the end.
Both accomplishments were cause for some satisfaction at Talladega Superspeedway, if not outright celebration. Patrick, who hadn't led Sprint Cup laps anywhere but Daytona, drove up front for six laps early in Sunday's Aaron's 499 and finished a middle-of-the-pack 22nd with a car the team could take back to North Carolina mostly unscathed.
''We're going to roll it up on the truck, which is more than a lot of cars can say after leaving a speedway,'' Patrick said. ''It was a fast, fast car so we'll be happy to take this one to Daytona.''
She had held the lead during the Daytona 500 each of the past two years. This time she led half of the opening 12 laps in two stints up front.
''It was nice to lead laps,'' Patrick said. ''It was nice to lead more than one that you just get pushed by the line. I think that shows that we've improved our cars and it makes me look forward to Daytona. It made me think real hard about how we're going to stay up front, because we've just got to be there.''
Crew chief Tony Gibson praised her efforts a few laps after she had lost the lead.
''Really nice job there at the start of that race,'' Gibson said over the radio. ''Way to get up there and lead some laps. Nice job.''
Patrick responded that her No. 10 Chevrolet handled the lead well, and that was another positive she took from the day.
''That's something we've been struggling with, but we worked on it a few weeks ago in some testing,'' Patrick said. ''It seemed to pay off. The power was good and the car was good and everything. It was really about some track position and keeping that thing cool so that you could go where you needed to go, and also most important run tight to people and be a good helper in the line and push it.
''But when you're hot you can't run super tight because there's no air then.''
Patrick spun Brad Keselowski after he tried to move in front of her just as she was edging up the track early on.
Neither cast blame on the other publicly after the race.
The heat was a bigger issue for Patrick's car, something that affected much of the field.
Patrick said at one point about 50 laps in ''it felt like it just died a little bit on me and it fell back.''
''It was definitely hot, and that's the point in time I started to struggle with it,'' she said. ''I was really limited to the bottom lane a lot of the time just because that's where I could get some clean air.''