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Danica Patrick had just raced her way into the fray, but the fray sent her back out, hard.
Patrick wrecked in the Nationwide Series race at Dover International Speedway and finished 30th on Saturday after being involved in an accident with 67 laps to go that began with contact from old friend/racing rival Sam Hornish Jr.
Patrick was 15th, her highest non-pit-cycle position of the 200-lap event, when she entered Turn 4 in the middle lane, slightly behind Brad Sweet in the high line and just ahead of Hornish in the low. Hornish appeared from television replays to bobble and make slight contact with the left-rear quarter panel of Patrick's No. 7 Chevrolet, sending her sliding into Sweet and, quickly thereafter, the wall.
Patrick said in a television interview after the race that she couldn't determine potential blame for Hornish until seeing a replay, but added, "We were all going gangbusters on the restart. The tires were so good so you try to use them. I was racing the car in front of me, and, you know, the car behind me is racing me."
Their chance on-track meetings continue. Patrick chased down and wrecked Hornish on the cool-down lap at Talladega this season after he ran her into the wall at the finish. Hornish contended he did so because of a flattening tire and he and his childhood go-karting competitor each said they had since reconciled.
Immediately after the Dover incident, however, she carped over team radio, "Shocker, real shocker," to which spotter TJ Majors responded, "He probably had a tire going down."
Hornish told SBNation.com he thought Patrick's car was coming down the track into his as he was attempting to continue a run, forcing him into a position in which he momentarily lost control of the No. 12 Dodge.
"I don't want to be here talking to you guys about having a problem with her," he said, according to the website. "I know that if that happens with Michael Annett or T.J. Bell, that we don't stand here and have this conversation. I don't want to have any problems with her."
The incident on Saturday appeared on replays to be a product of the typical style of close-quarters racing on the fast and physically demanding concrete track, not retaliation. Hornish also has more pressing agendas, as he began the race fourth in points and hopes to race back into a Sprint Cup job at Penske. He finished 13th on Saturday. Patrick fell two spots to 11th in points after failing to finish for the second time in the past three races.
Patrick led her first laps in a stock car race at Dover on Sept. 24, 2010, in what was her K&N Pro Series East debut. She led three laps and finished sixth but has not replicated that success in Nationwide. In the Nationwide race at Dover the following day, she finished 35th.
After the wreck, Patrick's crew repaired extensive damage to the car's steering assembly, chassis and sheet metal, allowing her back on track in the waning laps, but she retired after one hobbled trip around the oval.
Patrick qualified 17th but fell back in the early laps as she struggled to discern the racing lines at a track at which rubber accumulation on the track and tires is a major variable. She also left one pit stop in second gear -- prompting crew chief Tony Eury Jr. to recite "first gear" on subsequent stops -- and incurred a pit-road speeding penalty.
Lapped by the midpoint of the race, she appeared to be gaining confidence with racing lines and breaking a long tutorial from Eury under caution. She was caught in the accident just four laps after the restart, however.
"More than anything I was just starting to get into the rhythm, I think," Patrick said after the race. "I struggled a lot at the beginning."