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Menzer: Patrick learning new lessons every step of the way

February 27, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com



Menzer: Patrick learning new lessons every step of the way
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Patrick is learning new lessons every step of the way in NASCAR

Another day in NASCAR, another hard lesson learned by Danica Patrick.

This time Patrick learned you can't always trust a teammate, and was left wondering how to move forward positively in the aftermath of a ruined debut to her first full Nationwide Series season. After being wrecked by her JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt -- the second time in as many races at Daytona International Speedway she was wrecked from behind by another driver -- Patrick and Whitt also were grappling with how to move forward with no bad feelings lingering between the pair.

"I don't think it's ever great when teammates come together. So we'll have to figure out what happened and move forward."

--DANICA PATRICK

Patrick was entering Turn 3 on Lap 49 of the 120-lap Drive4COPD 300 when her No. 7 Chevrolet got tapped from behind -- twice -- by the No. 88 Chevy driven by Whitt. The second tap sent her spinning wildly, eventually carrying up to the outside wall where she hit hard before coming back down the track. The wreck caused so much damage that it took her team 48 laps to get the car to where it was drivable enough to get back on the track, dooming her to a 38th-place finish.

Patrick's crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., came on the team radio immediately after the wreck and said, "He wrecked the [expletive] out of you."

To which Patrick responded: "What the [expletive] is he thinking?"

As it turned out, Whitt, who went on to finish fourth in the race, was thinking he messed up and he felt badly about it.

"She pulled out," Whitt said after the race. "Our spotter was saying to just hook up with her and go. I was just trying to get hooked up with her. I gave her one shove, but then she got out too far away. In trying to get hooked back up, I guess I just pushed her around. It's just plate racing, trying to get something going when there's not a whole lot of room to do it. It was probably too early to do it anyway.

"I didn't mean to turn her around or anything. I was just trying to get hooked up and do the two-car tandem and got turned around in it."

All in the family

Patrick understandably bristled a bit when she was asked about getting wrecked by her own teammate.

"I don't think it's ever great when teammates come together. So we'll have to figure out what happened and move forward," she said.

Whitt took full responsibility for the incident and said he planned to talk with Patrick about it as soon as possible. He's running his first full Nationwide season as well and is facing his own learning curve. Now he can add a course in learning damage control with an upset teammate to his season's lesson plan.

"I think we'll be fine," Whitt said. "I wouldn't expect her to be happy about it. I wouldn't be happy about it, either. I don't know why anyone would say, 'Oh, yeah, it's great.'

"We're teammates. We want each other to win. That's why we were trying to get hooked up there. We want to get out team up front together."

Patrick was most upset by the fact that the wreck puts her in a points hole after her first baby step in a 33-race season.

"My car was really, really fast. I mean, even when guys were tandem racing right in front of me, I was able to hang right with them," Patrick said. "The GoDaddy car was very fast. And the bummer of it is that not only is it the start to the championship, and now I'm in the championship and every race matters, every point matters -- which is why we got out there again [after repairs to the car] -- but there are so many other days where your car isn't perfect, or isn't great, or isn't super-fast, and nothing happens to you. And you think, 'Why, on the days when I have a really fast car, does it have to happen today?' But it did, and we'll move on."

Eury Jr. said he had no doubts the two JR Motorsports drivers would be able to work it out and work together again down the road.

"It's unfortunate. He got into her at the wrong place, and that's the way it happens here," Eury Jr. said. "It's no big deal. Her and Cole can talk about it. It's no hard feelings. We're all a team here. It's the 88, 5 and 7 [cars]. We'll go to [the next restrictor-plate race at] Talladega, and we're going to push each other again. That's where we are."

"Successful weekend"

The wreck and poor finish put a damper on all the positive mojo generated by Patrick's pole-winning run in qualifying a day earlier. But Eury Jr. said that meant a lot, and that Saturday's wreck shouldn't overshadow it too much.

"Hell, I ain't never set on the pole here," said Eury Jr., who spent three-plus seasons as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Sprint Cup Series. "I'm tickled to death. I told the guys that was a successful weekend for me. I would love to win this race and run better. That's just part of racing. You're going to have good days and bad days. We had a half a good weekend."

He said his message to Patrick going forward is simple.

"Hey, it's one race. You got 32 more," he said. "Our biggest deal was we want to run really good in the first 10 so we can be in contention for this championship. That's what the big picture is all about. It ain't but one race, but the first 10 are the most important, so now we go to Phoenix and Vegas and have to come out of the box strong and make up some ground."

Patrick tried to remain upbeat, too. She also made the mental note to herself that she's got another race to get ready for, and quickly. She'll run in her first Daytona 500 on Sunday, the first of 10 Sprint Cup races she plans to compete in this season as she runs the full Nationwide schedule, too.

"They gave me a great car that sat on the pole," Patrick said. "I thought it was a lot of fun and quite chaotic even up until [the wreck]. But I'm sure the fans were entertained.

"Obviously we've got the Daytona 500 [on Sunday] -- my first time in that race. I can't dwell on [Saturday]. I need to buckle down and focus on the things that I need to do to get ready for [Sunday]. It's a big day -- and hopefully we have a better day."

Either way, there no doubt will be more lessons to be learned.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Drive4COPD 300 results | Nationwide Series points standings