‘It felt dire’: Danica Patrick had big fears of missing Daytona 500
Any way you slice it, it’s been a long and challenging Speedweeks for Danica Patrick.
After wrecking her primary car during Daytona 500 practice on Wednesday, Patrick was forced to start her respective Budweiser Duel qualifying race Thursday night in a backup car and at the tail end of the field.
But after keeping her nose clean for 56 of the 60 scheduled laps, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver was headed for a solid top-15 finish — and a guaranteed starting spot in Sunday’s Daytona 500 — when for the second day in a row, she lost control of her No. 10 Chevrolet and wrecked after being followed closely by Denny Hamlin.
Restarting at the back of the field with a damaged car for a green-white-checkered finish, Patrick gained some eight spots in the final two laps to finish 10th — an impressive drive that put her 20th on the grid for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Patrick, who angrily confronted Hamlin on pit road after her qualifying race, had feared the worst about her chances of getting into the Daytona 500 when the contact with Hamlin’s No. 11 car cost her multiple positions — with little time to make them up. To be assured of making The Great American Race, Patrick needed to finish at least 16th in her Duel qualifier, and she found herself on the back end of the bubble transfer spot after wrecking.
"Holy crap, it felt dire," Patrick said after the Duel. "This whole scenario is crazy that the series has put us in. Actually, I said (Wednesday), it’s horrible that it’s left up to other people and what they can do to you to whether or not you get in the race or not. I was like, ‘I just need to not get caught up in anything or have something like yesterday happen.’ And the exact same thing as yesterday happened.
"So it’s a stressful situation. It’s fairly unfair, I feel like, based on how much is out of your hands at a track like this. I have no doubt I’m sure it was incredibly exciting, but (it was) very stressful and what I feel is unfair."
Did Patrick believe in the moments after her late-race Duel incident that she was actually going to miss the Daytona 500?
"There’s a million scenarios," said Patrick, whose car was so damaged after the Duel that her team had to pull out a second backup car for the Daytona 500. "At the end when they told me I need four spots or, ‘You need to pass these two cars or you’re 18th right now,’ I was like, ‘Okay, do I have to be desperate basically? Do I have to pass these cars?’ Nobody answered me. I just said, ‘Screw it, I’m going to be desperate.’ "
"Yeah, that’s probably safe to say," she told FOXSports.com. "I think it’s one thing when you’re in a race and you want to do your best and have a great result. I’ve by all means been nervous at times. Probably two years ago starting on the (Daytona 500) pole, I always get more nervous the further up I start.
"But this is a whole different nervous. A lot of it has to do with the fact there’s so much out of our hands as drivers. That’s my frustration. It’s one thing if it’s qualifying and then you go race at a traditional track where, you know, you pass. But this is just big-pack racing where you just hope you don’t get into a wreck or somebody doesn’t get into you, right place at the right time."
"There’s a lot of stressing out," she said. "But there’s not much you can do about it. You just have to hope and pray for the best, be as smart as you can out there. That’s all you can do.
"I will say, obviously for my team and everybody, but mostly for GoDaddy, it made me nervous, too. This is the biggest race of the year and they need to be in it."