Danica Patrick learned more cogent lessons in the 50th Nationwide Series race of her NASCAR career Friday at Richmond International Raceway. She's still capable of beginner's mistakes, they will cost her and her team is ready to accept them as part of the process of making her a Sprint Cup driver by 2013.
Running 19th, lapped and racing Brad Sweet for position on Lap 144, Patrick slid up the track and into his No. 38 Chevrolet, initiating contact that sent her hard into the wall. Spotter Tyler Green, who had been planning Patrick's attempt at passing Sweet in the previous laps, had just radioed "still at your quarter," indicating Sweet was just behind her rear wheel, before she moved up the track.
"I got too close. I got into him," Patrick said.
She finished 29th, 32 laps down, for her ninth finish of 25th or worse this season.
Patrick and Sweet have had multiple on-track scrapes this season -- a tap from Sam Hornish Jr. sent her into a wreck with Sweet and out of the Nationwide race at Dover this summer -- but the Friday night incident was a result of a short-track neophyte's miscalculation.
Patrick's No. 7 Chevrolet underwent lengthy suspension repairs in the garage, and she returned to the track in 31st position, 33 laps down with 78 remaining.
Under a later pit stop under caution, Patrick radioed, "I'm sorry I wrecked it up for you today," to her crew but was reassured by crew chief Tony Eury Jr. It was the 12th time this season Patrick was involved in an incident that elicited a caution.
She later asked Green to apologize to Sweet's spotter, and was told it was "all good" and that the remaining laps could still yield valuable experience.
Patrick qualified 24th and ran as high as 17th on a Lap 117 restart. She had been lapped by eventual winner Kevin Harvick on Lap 95 of 250 as she struggled to pass the slower car of veteran Joe Nemechek. Eury had instructed Patrick to "move him," a common short-track tactic, but she was unable to execute the maneuver and was consumed by the leaders.
She collided slightly with the back of Ryan Truex's car later as his line out of Turn 3 carried him into her path, prompting her to radio, "I'm not trying to take him out."
Patrick, who had finished 18th and 21st in her previous Richmond races in stock cars, was coming off her best career short-track result, a ninth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway two weeks ago after starting 34th.