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Hornish incident behind Patrick; more tests ahead

May 10, 2012, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com



Hornish incident behind Patrick; more tests ahead

CONCORD, N.C. -- Danica Patrick and Sam Hornish Jr. have been competing against one another since before they were teenagers, and occasionally with contentious results. Go all the way back to their go-kart days, and there's a race where the two crashed near the finish of an event at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the same facility where they'll both be competing in NASCAR in two weeks. Despite all of it, they've managed to remain on good terms.

In that context, the vehicular blows they traded during and after last Saturday's Nationwide Series event at Talladega Superspeedway weren't exactly out of character for two drivers who have been banging on one another for a very long time. Neither was the reaction, after Patrick watched a replay of the end of the race sitting in her plane taxiing for takeoff back to Phoenix, and realized that instead of tapping Hornish on the cool-down lap she had hooked him into the wall.

"He hit the wall, and I didn't know that. That was not my intention. ... I just meant to tap him to say that I was disappointed that he would put me in the wall like that at the end of the race."

--DANICA PATRICK

"I saw it and I thought to myself -- uh-oh," Patrick said Thursday at the Charlotte track, where she was officially added to the stable of NASCAR drivers sponsored by Cola-Cola. "Because he hit the wall, and I didn't know that. That was not my intention. That's why I called everyone and let them know it was not my intention. I just meant to tap him to say that I was disappointed that he would put me in the wall like that at the end of the race. But we're all good now."

Patrick said she called Hornish -- who claimed a flat tire led him to pinch Danica's No. 7 car into the wall late in the race -- that Saturday night after she arrived home. She also emailed Roger Penske, Hornish's car owner, and on Sunday morning called Nationwide Series director Joe Balash. Although Patrick wasn't penalized for the incident, her first visit to storied old Darlington Raceway on Friday will include a sit-down with officials in the Nationwide hauler.

And Friday night she'll be back on the track with Hornish, someone she's crossed paths with throughout her career in go-karts, in open-wheel cars, and now in NASCAR. "We've raced hard, we've raced a lot," Patrick said. "I've known him since I was probably 12 years old, maybe 11. We were friends then. Great friends, and obviously I went to England and he started racing IndyCars, but when I came back he was the first person I said hi to, and I plan on being friends with him for a lot longer."

The Nationwide race will be but part of a long and potentially challenging weekend for Patrick, whose trip to Darlington will also include her second Sprint Cup start. Patrick, who was involved in an early crash and finished 38th in the Daytona 500, her debut in NASCAR's premier series, is locked into Saturday night's Bojangles Southern 500 because David Reutimann has the No. 10 car in the top 35 in owner points. But that alleviates only one concern for Patrick, who has never seen anything like the egg-shaped South Carolina track, where cars run right up against the wall.

Patrick said she's watched a lot of in-car video from Darlington, and couldn't help but notice how the walls get blacker and blacker as the race goes on. "My goals are not to have a great finish," she conceded. "Of course if I do, it's going to be nice. It's really just to get to the end."

Ryan Newman, her teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, provided Patrick with some Darlington insight during a recent test in Nashville, Tenn. "She'll have experience," he said. "She'll have experience from Friday night that she can carry over to Saturday. She's an experienced race car driver. She's not the first person to go there and make her Sprint Cup debut."

Two weeks later brings another arduous first for Patrick -- the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR's longest race. "The Coke 6,000," she jokingly called the Memorial Day weekend event, which will mark the first time Patrick will be at a NASCAR track instead of the Indianapolis 500, the open-wheel spectacle where some strong finishes helped make her the most popular driver in that discipline. Instead, she'll strap into a stock car for a five-hour, day-to-night marathon.

Her biggest concern? "Maybe the length," Patrick said. "I've heard it goes on and on and on. I used to laugh and think it was funny when I heard about some people keeping snacks in their car. But it's a long race, and you have to stay focused and hydrated -- and maybe well-fed."

Toward that end, Charlotte track president Marcus Smith suggested fried cupcakes, which the facility serves on a skewer. No, Danica, you're not in Indianapolis anymore.