DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Danica Patrick’s day started at the front of the pack. It ended with another frustrating wreck.
After starting from the pole position in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway, Patrick was caught in a crash when JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt nudged her rear bumper and sent her spinning into the wall.
Patrick vented her frustration on the radio with her team immediately after the wreck, then acknowledged after the race that she wanted an explanation.
“I don’t think it’s ever great when teammates come together,” Patrick said. “So we’ll have to figure out what happened and move forward.”
Whitt said he didn’t mean to wreck Patrick, saying the incident was a result of the bumper-to-bumper style of racing at Daytona.
“Yeah, I think we’ll be fine,” 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, it’s great.’ We’re teammates. We want our teams to win. That’s why we’re trying to push each other anyways. We want to get our team up front together.”
Patrick eventually got back into the race after her crew made extensive repairs to her car in the garage area. She finished 38th in a wreck-filled race that was won by James Buescher.
Patrick began the 300-mile event up front after becoming the first woman to win a NASCAR pole position since Shawna Robinson in 1994. She led at the start, spent the first part of the race in the top 10 before getting shuffled out of the draft and falling deeper in the field before the tap by Whitt.
“Well, we were just doing big pack racing and went down into (Turn) 3, got a little tap, got a little bit sideways, saved it, and then just got hit again and couldn’t save it,” Patrick said. “You guys saw the rest from there.”
Whitt said he just was trying to tandem draft.
“I got ahold of her in the corner, and that’s probably what turned her around,” Whitt said. “I got to her back bumper at the wrong spot at the wrong time, you know? So that’s about it.”
Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. didn’t think the incident would be a problem for the team.
“It’s unfortunate,” Eury said. “He got into her at the wrong place, and that’s the way it happens. It’s no big deal. Her and Cole can talk about it. It’s no hard feelings. We’re all a team here.”
Eury said Patrick was doing a good job in the draft early on.
“I was really happy with where she was at,” Eury said. “I wish we’d got to run some more and see what she had at the end because I think she’s really got something for these guys.”
Patrick said she was particularly frustrated because her car was so fast — even when she was running by herself behind two cars that had teamed up to form a high-speed drafting tandem.
“It was so fast,” Patrick said. “I could keep up to tandem cars in front of me all by myself. And it’s so frustrating when you have one of those kinds of cars, because there are other days where you don’t have that kind of a car, nobody seems to manage to find your bumper ever. It’s very frustrating when you’ve got a really fast car. Tony Jr. obviously gave me a car that sat on the pole. I thought it was a lot of fun and quite chaotic up until then. But hopefully the fans were entertained.”
Patrick also has points to worry about now that she’s running full-time in Nationwide.
“Every race matters, every point matters, which is why we got out there again,” Patrick said. “But there are so many other days where your car isn’t perfect, or isn’t great, or isn’t super-fast, and nothing happens to you. And you think, ‘Why, on the days when I have a really fast car, does it have to happen today?’ But it did, and we’ll move on.”
Patrick, a former IndyCar star who made the jump to NASCAR, also crashed on the final lap of a qualifying race for the Daytona 500 on Thursday. Much like Saturday’s accident, that one wasn’t her fault.
With her first Daytona 500 start looming Sunday, she doesn’t have time to dwell on the wrecks.
“Obviously, we’ve got the Daytona 500 tomorrow, my first time,” Patrick said. “And I can’t dwell on today. I need to buckle down and focus, I need to get ready for tomorrow for the big day. And hopefully we have a better day.”
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)