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Danica sent for a wild ride on final lap of Duel

February 24, 2012, Joe Menzer,

Chain-reaction wreck sends her spinning and crashing violently into the wall

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It all went pretty much according to plan for Danica Patrick in her inaugural Gatorade Duel qualifying race Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.

Until, that is, the final two corners on the final lap of the 150-mile event.

"I'll go look at it and see if I can change something or fix something that I'm doing out there, but overall, I'm just very disappointed ... It's not how we wanted to roll into Sunday."


Then, Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet got clipped in a chain-reaction wreck that sent her spinning and crashing violently into an inside retaining wall.

* Video: Danica crashes hard in Duel 1 | Reactions

Patrick admitted afterward that the impact she took rivaled that of any she had endured in previous crashes in her racing career, but she walked away uninjured and didn't even appear to be shaken.

"Yeah, it was pretty big. I guess it's pretty good that it happened [Thursday] and not on a Saturday or Sunday -- because that would have meant I crashed in the Nationwide race, and that would have been bad," said Patrick, who is making the transition to NASCAR full time this year after running a full-time IndyCar schedule and part-time NASCAR schedule the past two years.

"It sucks. You just kind of brace yourself. I guess in these situations, I just need to be glad that I'm a small driver and that I've got room to just kind of hug it in and let it rip."

Patrick said her car was sent spinning after getting hit by someone else, and it appeared to be the No. 43 Ford driven by Aric Almirola who hit her. But Almirola said he was a victim of driver Jamie McMurray getting loose in his No. 1 Chevy right in front of him, which appeared to be confirmed via television replay.

"To be honest, I couldn't really tell what happened. We got a really good run coming to the white [flag]," Almirola said. "We were running in fourth -- and the next thing I knew, I got down into Turn 1 and I was in the middle on a three-wide for 12th. It got pretty crazy there when we came there and got the white.

"We went from three-wide in the middle of Turns 1 and 2 and then I think somebody came from behind me to make it four-wide. Then the 1 car got loose off of [Turn] 2 and I tried to stay off of him, but he came across my nose and I couldn't stay off of him. Then me and Danica got together and she went off sliding down into the infield and had a big crash.

"I'm glad she's OK. We managed to save our race car. We've got a little bit of body damage -- but other than that our Smithfield Ford was really fast."

Almirola and Patrick talked for several minutes in the Sprint Cup garage area shortly after the race, parting ways amicably.

"I just got hit," Patrick said. "I was running on the bottom and I'm betting it was a chain reaction from the outside. That's what it looked like. Guys get so close on their side drafts that they're touching you sometimes. I'm sure that at times, at least in that situation, that it was a 'hitting' side draft. But it was probably a chain reaction.

"I'll go look at it and see if I can change something or fix something that I'm doing out there, but overall, I'm just very disappointed that the car got crashed with just two corners to go. It's not how we wanted to roll into Sunday. We wanted to be cool, calm and collected with no damage."

Patrick already was locked into Sunday's Daytona 500, which will be the first in her career. After being forced to settle for a 16th-place finish in Thursday's first Duel and now having to go to a backup car, she will drop to the rear of the field at the beginning of the race.

Thursday's first qualifying race was won by Tony Stewart, who doubles as co-owner of the Stewart-Haas Racing organization that is fielding Patrick's 500 car through a partnership with Tommy Baldwin Racing for the 500. Stewart admitted he was trying to keep tabs on Patrick as Thursday's race unfolded, and said that for the most part he liked what he was seeing.

"I didn't see how [the last-lap wreck] started. I just saw it in the [rear-view] mirror, and saw her car taking a hard left there. So obviously when you turn that hard left, usually you got some help," Stewart said. "I didn't know what the start of that was, but I kept looking in my mirror to see where she was behind me. The good thing about that fluorescent green car is that she's easy to pick out.

"It was really impressive how she kept picking her way up through the field. She got up to sixth at one point, the way I saw it. So I thought she did a good job. I'll get a better shot to understand how she really did when I get the chance to see the replay of it and watch the whole race. But the little bit that I did see [during Thursday's race], I thought she did a good job. I thought she would do that."

Stewart said it was simply the beginning of the learning curve for Patrick on the Sprint Cup side. Patrick will run 10 Cup races this season, as well as a full-time Nationwide Series schedule in a JR Motorsports car.

"It's hard for her right now because she's trying to gain the confidence of the guys around her," Stewart said. "She wants to show that she's solid and makes good decisions, and that she's not going to just pull the pin every time she gets an opportunity to break out of line. I think there is more aggression in her and more confidence in her than even what she showed here [Thursday], but I was pleased with the poise that she showed in trying to gain the confidence of the other drivers."

Patrick tried to look at the bright side of Thursday's disappointing finish. All things considered, she thought she performed reasonably well.

"Overall, I'm happy -- and I'm forgetting the last two corners," Patrick said. "At times it was much more calm than I expected, to be honest. At times when we got single file and had very steady two-lane racing, it was pretty calm. I felt like I learned a lot, was learning a lot about the side draft. I learned what to do in those situations and how to get the most out of it. Obviously, you don't want to get into people because bad things happen. But I'm glad that I finished all those laps to get that experience. It would have been much more disappointing to have done that early on and not have had the experience that I did.

"Maybe that backup car is fast. We weren't super excited after qualifying, so maybe this is a blessing in big disguise."