Big hit for Danica at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Florida - Danica Patrick walked away unhurt after taking a hard hit into the track wall here during her qualifying race at the Daytona International Speedway on Thursday.
Her race car didn't fare quite so well.
Patrick was caught up in a crash on the last lap of the first of two 150-mile qualifying races, sending her car into the wall on the back stretch. she lost the front end of her car so she'll have to use a spare car for Sunday's Daytona 500.
Patrick said after a medical check that she hoped her spare car might be even faster than her primary car.
"I'm just very disappointed that the car got crashed with two corners to go," Patrick said. "It's not how we wanted to roll into Sunday. We wanted to just be cool, calm and collected with no damage. But, like I said, maybe that backup car's fast."
Maybe, she joked, the accident "will turn out to be a blessing in big disguise".
Her race strategist Greg Zipadelli was in no mood for jokes as his team attended to Patrick's wrecked car. "Her biggest thing was she wanted to go out there and ride with a bunch of guys and be in there and earn the respect of them - she can do this, she's not all over the place.
"I never saw her car move. I saw a lot of grown men couldn't keep their car under control. So maybe they need to work on that."
Patrick wasn't even sure what happened. "I just got hit," she said. "Just running on the bottom lane and I'm betting it was the chain reaction from the outside, it looked like.
"Guys get so close on the side drafting that they're touching you sometimes. I'm sure that at times, maybe in that situation, it was a 'hitting' side draft. It was just probably a chain reaction."
'WHAT JUST HAPPENED?' Chevrolet driver Danica Patrick, "the darling of Daytona", was left puzzling the cause of Friday's crash that has put her in her spare car for Sunday's Daytona 500.
Tony Stewart, Patrick's team owner for a part-time schedule in the 2012 Sprint Cup Series, tried to keep an eye on his driver as he also ran the first race - which Stewart ended up winning.
"I'll get a better shot (at) understanding exactly how her race went when I get to see a replay," Stewart said. "The little bit I could see, I thought she did a good job. There wasn't any doubt in my mind she would do that."'PRETTY CALM'
Patrick spent most of the race running just outside the top 10, working her way up to sixth at one point. She had a close call early on, darting to the apron at the bottom of the track to avoid a collision.
"At times it was much more calm than I expected," Patrick said. "When we got single-file or very steady two-lane racing it was pretty calm. So I felt like I learned a lot. I was learning a lot about the side draft and what to do in those situations, how to get the most out of it."
Stewart said one of Patrick's biggest priorities was earning the respect and trust of fellow Cup drivers. "It's hard for her now because she's trying to gain the confidence of the guys around her that she's solid and is going to make good decisions."
Patrick has committed full-time to Nascar for 2012. She'll run Nationwide for JR Motorsports and plans to run a partial Cup schedule driving for Stewart.MORE POTENTIAL
"I really feel good," Patrick said. "I feel comfortable, I feel confident, I feel like if things fall our way and I can take the experience from today into Sunday, it will be a good day. Things that are out of your control can make it a bad day, but that's kind of the excitement about racing."
Stewart knows Patrick hasn't yet shown her full potential in Nascar.
"I think there's more aggression and confidence in her than what she showed here today," Stewart said. "It shows her poise."