Daytona 500 wreck claims Danica Patrick, others
February 23, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick emerged from the Daytona International Speedway care center looking equal parts stunned and dejected after being involved in a 13-car accident on lap 145 of the Daytona 500 -- a race she led earlier in the night.
Her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet led two laps just before the race’s midpoint following a six-hour rain delay. It was while Patrick was safely biding her time a little farther back in the pack, preparing for a final pit stop, that she was collected in the accident on the frontstretch.
Kevin Harvick, Brian Scott and Aric Almirola collided while racing three-wide, causing Almirola's car to spin across the track and tap Patrick's car, which spun and impacted a portion of the wall where there was no safer barrier at a nearly 45-degree angle.
"I was worried because when I first hollered to her, she didn’t say anything, then the second time, she finally got on the radio," said Patrick’s crew chief, Tony Gibson, after helping his crew push their badly damaged No. 10 from its garage stall to the team’s transporter as the waning laps of the race roared nearby.
“It made me kind of nervous. That’s the worst kind of hit you can take right there. It looks like everything did its job, all the stuff NASCAR does on the safety side. It still scares you when you see that kind of hit."
Patrick demurred when asked if that was the hardest hit she’d had in NASCAR. She was more disappointed not to have a shot at a good finish in a race in which she contended for a win the previous year.
“I felt like everything was going pretty well so it’s just upsetting, a culmination of sitting around all day,’’ Patrick said, her voice low taking only two questions from reporters outside the care center.
“It’s a bummer, but that’s kind of the excitement of speedway racing -- that anything can happen. It was unfortunate I was on the short end of the accident but that’s the kind of thing that happens.’’
Of the 13 cars involved, only Patrick, Almirola and Michael Waltrip were unable to continue.
Almirola, who drives Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 Ford Fusion, said it was simply a matter of people deciding to turn up the intensity late in the race.
“The track has a lot more grip, so people are taking a lot more risks, and the cars drive a lot better at night, so two- and three-wide is usually not a problem,’’ Almirola said. “I think somebody got loose up under me and the next thing I knew I was pounding the fence.’’
For Patrick, it was the culmination of a hard-knocks Speedweeks. Her car lost an engine during an early practice session, sentencing her to the rear of the grid for both the Duel 150-mile qualifying race and the Daytona 500 for changing engines before qualifying.
It was a far cry from last year’s Daytona 500, when she became the first woman to win the pole in NASCAR’s biggest race and the first to lead a lap. She equaled the latter feat Sunday night, but was clearly more frustrated not to be around at the end after overcoming a pit road incident with Petty’s other driver Marcos Ambrose and having to race forward from the rear of the field.
Gibson, a veteran crew chief, was more philosophic about the whole day and pleased with the experience his second-year Cup driver gained. He said the team leaves for next week’s stop in Phoenix encouraged.
“We were set up at the end there for a gas-and-go, but just got caught up in somebody else’s mess,’’ Gibson said. “That’s the product of this deal. She did an awesome job.
“I know she’s disappointed and I know she’s banged up pretty good. As long as she’s OK that’s all that mattered.
“I’ve been through this so many times. It sucks, but Matt Kenseth blew up here last year and almost won a championship. It hurts but everybody here’s going to have a problem. It’s hard to make up Daytona, but it can be done.”