After leading the first two laps of Saturday’s season-opening Nationwide race, Danica Patrick found herself in the Turn 3 wall on lap 49 of the 120-lap race, punted off-track by her own JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt.
Patrick’s No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet spent about 30 minutes in the garage while the team made massive repairs to the front end. But she was able to return to the track with 25 laps remaining to collect points toward the championship in her first full-time Nationwide season.
Her 38th-place result won’t reflect her effort on the day. She started from the pole position, only the second female to do so in one of NASCAR’s three major touring series. And she had been running among the top eight for much of the early race, but had just been shuffled back in the pack when the accident occurred.
“The (expletive) 88 hit me while were in a big pack,’’ a frustrated Patrick exclaimed on the team radio as her car was coming to rest. “What the (expletive) was he thinking?’’
Her crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who is also a part owner in JR Motorsports, was equally upset, replying to Patrick, “He just crashed the (expletive) out of you,’’
For his part, Whitt — who only has one previous Nationwide start — was able to continue after the accident and finished a career-best fourth. He was contrite after the race and expected to speak with Patrick.
“I got her once on the backstretch and thought we were pretty good, and she must have got off me a little too much, and then when she backed up getting into the corner, you know, it was just another shove,’’ 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 expect her to be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s great.’
“We’re teammates. We want our team to win. I mean, that’s why we were pushing each other anyways — we want to get our team up front together.’’
While Patrick was plenty upset on the radio at the time of the accident, she was calm and collected when she spoke with reporters after the race. Her account of the accident was similar to Whitt’s, but she was clearly still frustrated about the situation. It was the second time she was crashed out of a race during Speedweeks, including the Gatorade Duel qualifying race on Thursday.
“I don’t think it’s ever great when teammates come together,’’ Patrick said. “We’ll have to figure out what happened and move forward.
“My car was really, really fast even when guys were tandem racing in front of me, I was able to hang right with them all by myself.
“The bummer of it is not only is this the start to the championship and I’m in the championship and every point matters, but there are so many other days when your car isn’t perfect, isn’t super fast and nothing happens to you.
“And you think why on the days when I have a really fast car it has to happen today? But it did and we’ll move on.
Patrick will become only the third woman in NASCAR history to start the Daytona 500 on Sunday and said, she was ready to put Saturday’s disappointment behind her and prepare for her Sprint Cup Series debut.
“Obviously, we’ve got the Daytona 500 tomorrow, my first time, so I can’t dwell on today,’’ Patrick said. “I need to buckle down and focus on the things I need to for the big day, and hopefully we have a better day.’’