Danica Patrick must race her way into Daytona 500 after wreck

After clocking in just 32nd quickest during last Sunday’s qualifying rounds that set the front row for this Sunday’s Daytona 500, Danica Patrick needed a top-15 finish in her respective Budweiser Duel qualifying race to guarantee herself a spot in The Great American Race.

She still does.

But now, instead of starting her respective 150-mile qualifier from the 16th spot, she’ll start last due to a crash in the first of Wednesday’s two scheduled Sprint Cup practices at Daytona International Speedway.

Running in a pack of cars, Patrick appeared to move down into the path of Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota when contact sent Patrick’s No. 10 Chevy into the outside wall before making slight contact with Matt Kenseth and Michael Annett.

As a result of being forced to a backup car, she’ll drop to rear at the start of Thursday night’s second Duel qualifier.

"I’m obviously disappointed and I know that it was a good car and it’s never a good thing to crash," Patrick said. "But, I was just riding along and it turned, so it’s the nature of pack racing and that’s what makes it challenging, too. Sometimes there’s not much you can do about it.

"I could have collected more people and it wouldn’t have been anything that they were a part of. But that’s just group racing at Daytona," she said. "That’s the gamble that we all face. That’s what makes it exciting and very frustrating."

Hamlin took responsibility for Patrick’s accident — sort of.

"I guess I’ll take the blame," the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said on the FOX Sports 2 broadcast. "I was going through the middle, which in practice you can’t be so aggressive . . . you want to protect your car, but we also have to put ourselves in positions where we have to figure out what our car is doing. I went through the middle, it was really wide. As soon as I already got in beside her, the lane closed and knocked me into (Casey Mears).

"There’s typically not a whole lot of blocking in practice and things like that — that you’ll see in the race. That’s just a miscalculation one way or another on one of our parts. Unfortunately, some cars got torn up."

What does all this mean for Patrick’s chances of winning the Daytona 500? It certainly doesn’t bode well. But her first priority is merely making the race — which can only be guaranteed with a strong run in her qualifying race.

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"With this new format that we have with (group) qualifying and the race and everything, we knew we were going to have to race hard through the Duels, anyway," Patrick said. "That’s not going to change. It just makes extra work for everybody having to get everything ready with the other car."

With some drivers guaranteed to start Sunday’s race based on last year’s final owner points — even if they don’t finish in the top 15 of their respective Duel — the 2013 Daytona 500 pole winner seemed confused about what exactly she must do to ensure herself a spot on Sunday’s 43-car grid.

"Well, I really don’t know the circumstances for the race and qualifying and backups," Patrick said. "I really don’t. I was fairly confused in and of itself just with what you’ve got to do to get in, other than being in the top 15 (in the Duel) — even without going to a backup. So I don’t know. I just know that I have to race hard, and that’s the end of it."