NASCAR driver Danica Patrick had a terrible morning Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway. Patrick is among the 49 teams entered in the Sunday’s Daytona 500. During the first practice however Patrick saw her chances of making this year’s field take a big hit.
Patrick who was a surprise Daytona 500 pole winner in 2013, had just started the practice session and was running three wide on the backstretch Patrick moved down the track and made contact with Denny Hamlin. She then nosed into the outside wall then shot back across the track collecting Michael Annett and Jeb Burton. Patrick’s car slid through the grass at the bottom of turn 3 coming to rest near the edge of the grass and the track.
“People say in practice that you can’t make aggressive moves,” Hamlin said. “But we also have to put ourselves in decent positions where we’re going to have to figure out what our car is doing. I went through the middle and it was really wide – it just closed as soon as I had already got inside of her (Danica Patrick) and the lane closed. It knocked me into the 13 (Casey Mears) and we had some attrition after that.”
The other cars involved in the incident were able to make it back to the pits. Patrick’s Chevy was destroyed and had to be towed in.
“I was just riding along and it turned,” Patrick said. “That’s the nature of pack racing and that’s what makes it challenging, too. Sometimes there’s not much you can do about it. That’s the gamble that we all face. That’s what makes it exciting and very frustrating.”
By the time Patrick had returned to pits her crew was already in the process of unloading the back-up car. The team said it is the same car Kurt Busch raced to a third place finish here last July.
“Hopefully we get out by the end of second practice,” Patrick said of her back-up car. “If not, we didn’t plan on running tomorrow, but I would imagine that would mean we might run tomorrow. But hopefully we should get out here in the second practice and we’ll have 40 minutes to make sure everything is okay. We probably won’t get through our list of things that we wanted to try to make sure on single car runs that we were getting the most speed out of it. But, at the end of the day when you’re in a pack, you see cars with damage all over the place and they manage to hang on just fine. So, we’ve just got to make sure everything is okay to roll for tomorrow.”
“I’m obviously disappointed and I know that it was a good car and it’s never a good thing to crash,” she added. “But, I was just riding along and it turned, so it’s the nature of pack racing and that’s what makes it challenging, too. Sometimes there’s not much you can do about it. I could have collected more people and it wouldn’t have been anything that they were a part of. But that’s just group racing at Daytona. That’s the gamble that we all face. That’s what makes it exciting and very frustrating. So, we knew we were going to have to run hard in the Duels no matter what, and that just doesn’t change.”
Patrick now faces a somewhat daunting task to make the field for the Daytona 500. The Daytona 500 features a unique qualifying format. Only the first two starting spots were determined by last Sunday’s qualifying session. The rest of the field for Sunday will determined by the Duel qualifying races on Thursday. The top 15 finishers from each of the Duels, with the exception of Gordon and Johnson will make up the top 30. The next four spots are given to those four drivers who were fastest behind Gordon and Johnson last Sunday (Patrick was not among those four). Then six spots are based on total owner points and one spot is reserved for a past champion. Patrick finished 28th last year in the Sprint Cup standings meaning that there is a chance that poor performance Thursday could mean that Patrick will not race on Sunday.
“Well, I really don’t know the circumstances for the race and qualifying and back-ups,” Patrick said. “I really don’t. I was fairly confused in and of itself just with what you’ve got to do to get in other than being in the Top 15 even without going to a back-up. So, I don’t know. I just know that I have to race hard and that’s the end of it.”