Danica learns despite wreck in NASCAR debut

For Danica Patrick, Saturday’s DRIVE4COPD 300 was a lesson in hard knocks — literally.

Although she lasted just 68 laps in her NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Daytona International Speedway, Patrick gained valuable NASCAR experience.

“I was just starting to get it,” Patrick pleaded with crew chief Tony Eury Jr., as she drove the mangled No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet to pit road for repairs.

And indeed she was. Seven laps earlier, Eury reported to his driver that she had posted her fastest lap of the race.

That wasn’t the only time she showed her prowess. Patrick started the race 15th And narrowly missed the second wreck in Turn 2 on Lap 7 that damaged eight cars. Her evasive move even surprised spotter Chip Ross, who asked, “Did you get any of that?” Patrick replied, “I don’t know how I didn’t but I didn’t.

“In that specific incident I can really relate it the very first one at the beginning of the race (Lap 8) when I was up high and some cars came together in front of me,” Patrick explained. “There was smoke and I just kind of held my line and slowed down and they went from crashing in front of me to sliding down the track a little bit so I missed it,” Patrick said.

Although Patrick restarted 17th on Lap 12, she couldn’t hold that position for long. Despite two cautions in the first eight laps, Patrick quickly dropped to the back to the 34th position in three laps when she was unable to find a drafting partner.

Despite her Q-rating off the track, Sprint Cup and Nationwide competitors traditionally won’t run with drivers inexperienced in the draft. By Lap 25, Patrick was 13 seconds behind the leader. She dropped off the lead just before Mike Wallace spun in Turn 3 on Lap 51 but was rewarded with the beneficiary following that caution and restarted 27th. She had gained four positions before the multi-car wreck ended her day.

But rolling back in the 34th position among the riff raff was not the most advantageous place for Patrick to be. That proved true when a wreck ignited between Colin Braun and Josh Wise at the start of the tri-oval and collected the No. 7 and nine other cars in the process.

“In (the final incident) I did the same thing I could see actually something happen out of (Turn) 4, definitely, some car got sideways, (but) he got it, it looked like. I slowed down in the middle of (Turn) 4 ’cause I saw it, but I thought we all were under control. Then all of a sudden you see smoke and I literally could not see a thing.”

On Lap 69, Patrick retired the No. 7 behind the wall.

“Definitely that second stint was much better,” Patrick said referring to her run following the pit stop on lap 53. “Tony Jr. made an adjustment on the car and I got more comfortable running in traffic so I felt better. Unfortunately, with this tight racing on these big tracks, people slide and spin and there’s tons of smoke and you can’t see. I wonder if there’s a way they could find a way for the tires not to produce smoke? Because I think we would crash less race cars if they didn’t produce smoke.”

Her race wasn’t picture perfect, however, as Patrick experienced a few miscues along the way. She stalled her car on pit road, was unsure as to where to line up on restarts, and struggled with closing in on the car ahead of her.

Patrick, who finished 35th, admitted that the difference in cars and this close-style racing “surprises” her, even after running a dress rehearsal a week prior in the ARCA Series — which is a lower level stock car racing division.

“The ARCA race was good,” Patrick said. “But there’s less good cars and less up to par teams. So, everybody is less spread out and the cars were easier to drive.

“But unfortunately (the wrecks are) the inevitable of what’s going to happen here. It’s also a product of racing so close together, you don’t give yourself any gap to take some open space or see anything.”