Danica: Woulda, coulda, shoulda

Danica Patrick on the final lap: ‘I didn’t know what to do exactly.’

Danica Patrick got a huge lesson in woulda, coulda, shoulda at Sunday’s Daytona 500, where she was running third behind winner Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle with half a lap to go.

But when the checkered flag fell, Patrick was eighth — a still impressive finish, but one that left her wondering what she could have done to win.

The nature of racing at Daytona International Speedway is that winning the Daytona 500 requires an aerodynamic push — two cars together are faster than one alone.

On the final lap, Patrick was tucked behind the leaders in the high line on the backstretch, when a group of cars led by Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin dove to the bottom of the track. Earnhardt and Martin blew by Patrick, finishing second and third, respectively, and in the space of about 20 seconds, Patrick lost five spots.

Had Patrick pulled down in front of Earnhardt, he could have pushed her to a victory. Or caused a massive wreck if he turned her sideways. That’s always the gamble on the last lap at Daytona.

Afterwards, Patrick admitted her lack of familiarity with the nuances of the Daytona draft cost her a shot at NASCAR’s biggest prize.

“I would imagine that pretty much anyone would kick themselves and say what could I have, should I have done to give myself that opportunity to win,” said Patrick. “I think that’s what I was feeling today, was uncertainty as to how I was going to accomplish that. There was plenty of time while you were cruising along. … I was thinking in the car, ‘How am I going to do this?’ I didn’t know what to do exactly. So I feel like maybe that’s just my inexperience. Maybe that’s me not thinking hard enough. I don’t know. Getting creative enough. I’m not sure.”