TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Danica Patrick offered an apology, but admitted she didn't know if it was necessary.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver was involved in an early incident with 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski during Sunday's running of the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Paul Menard was on the outside, Keselowski in the middle and Patrick pulling the low line battling for the lead as the field headed toward the start/finish line on Lap 14 of the 188-lap event. The cars of Keselowski and Patrick made contact as Keselowski surged ahead, sending Keselowski spinning down onto the apron.
His Ford shot back up on the track, barely avoiding heavy contact from Trevor Bayne.
Patrick was able to continue without damage to her No. 10 Chevrolet.
"I was running the bottom and feeling like I was about to get hung out; he went up to the outside and I was looking in my mirror to see if I was clear of the 24 (of Jeff Gordon) to slot in," Patrick said following her 22nd-place finish. "I was moving up to get in that lane to clear it. I thought the 2 (of Keselowski) had enough momentum to be gone past me."
Not having seen a replay of the incident, Patrick said she didn't know "if it was just me coming up -- it very well could have been. I don't know if it was him coming down. I'm not 100 percent sure.
"But I do know I was looking in my mirror trying to get up behind the 2 and in front of the 24; just about to slot into that spot," she said. "And that's when it happened. My apologies if it was all my fault. ... That by no means is anything I was trying to do. I'm not out here to make enemies, especially on speedways."
Keselowski lost several laps while his team made repairs in the garage. After returning to the race, he was involved in a second incident, spinning on Lap 137 and igniting a 14-car incident in Turn 4.
"We ... made a really aggressive move to take the lead and then it all just kind of bottlenecked from there," Keselowski said of the initial incident. "I don't know if I cut somebody off or got ran over, but just enough to get spun out and tear up the car. … Obviously there was some kind of contact, but I don't know what happened."
Keselowski's crew chief Paul Wolfe took any blame off the No. 10 as he radioed his driver following the contact.
"We weren't clear enough to make that," he said "I'll just call it at that. We weren't clear enough to make that move."
Patrick became the first female racer to lead laps at Talladega when she got past Menard on Lap 6 to lead two laps. After Gordon took the point, Patrick battled back to lead four more circuits.
"It was nice to lead a lot of them, or more than one that you just get pushed by the line," she said. "I think that shows that we've improved our cars and it makes me look forward to Daytona (in July), and think real hard about how to stay up front because you've just got to be there. It's not that easy to go from 25th to the lead. It takes some help; it takes some luck. That little bit of strategy is what I've got to figure out."
Overheating issues eventually forced Patrick out of line and as a result, the No. 10 car dropped to the back half of the field.
"It was definitely hot," she said. "That's the point in time where I started to struggle with it. I was really limited to the bottom lane a lot of the time just because that's where I could get some clean air.
"The power was good and the car was good. It was just really about some track position and keeping that thing cool so you go where you needed to go. Most importantly, 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."
The end result was that the team was "going to roll it up on the truck," which is more than a lot of cars can say after leaving a speedway.
"It was a fast, fast car ... we'll be happy to take this thing to Daytona," Patrick said.