Danica Patrick 0-for-2 at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Two races, two big wrecks and the big event still to come.
That sums up the past three days for Danica Patrick. Oh, she also won a pole in between the wrecks.
It was a tiny moment of glory and one bright spot in what has been a miserable 2012 debut for Patrick at Daytona.
The smashed race cars and bad results won't matter if she goes out and runs well Sunday in her first Daytona 500. But for now, it's downright ugly.
Patrick's Nationwide Series car was back in the garage Saturday after she wrecked on Lap 49 when bumped by rookie and JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt.
"I don't think it's ever great when teammates come together,'' Patrick said after the race. "We'll have to figure out what happened and move forward."
I sense a tense team meeting coming on that issue after a day that started with so much optimism for Patrick.
"We have to get everybody together and talk about it," said Tony Eury Jr., Patrick's crew chief. "She was angry. It's unfortunate. She and Cole will talk about it. We're all a team here."
Not that it's any consolation, but Patrick wasn't alone with a wrecked race car in a Nationwide event that may have set a record for mangled sheet metal.
Fewer than 10 cars got to the end without some damage, and most left the track on a hook after James Buescher (thousands of you just said, "Who?") won the race.
Wrecking at Daytona is part of the drill, as Patrick is learning the hard way.
She started from the pole, something no woman ever had done at Daytona. And Patrick was feeling chipper after some encouragement from Eury.
"I asked Tony Jr. how he felt," Patrick said in a prerace TV interview. "He said, 'I think we've got a good shot here.' If he feels good, I feel good. I'm a little nervous, but I've just got to be smooth and be smart and stay out of trouble."
She was smooth at times, leading laps at the start with the help of team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who pushed her ahead of the pack. And she was smart at times, backing off when the engine ran hot and not panicking when she brushed the outside and fell back in the draft.
But the staying out of trouble thing? She still needs to work on that one. A few laps before the accident, Patrick sensed the danger.
"I can't stress enough how blind we are when we're pushing," Patrick said to Eury on Lap 43. "It's pretty chaotic out here."
Patrick was running alone on the track entering Turn 3 of Lap 49 when Whitt closed on her quickly from behind. Whitt probably wanted to pair up and push his teammate forward, but he bumped her once, fell back, and then bumped her again.
One time too many. Patrick's car spun to the left and slid down on the apron. The car turned back to the right and shot up the banking, slamming into the outside wall before sliding back down the track.
"I went down into [Turn] 3 and got a little tap, got a little sideways and saved it," Patrick said. "But I got hit again and couldn't save it."
When the team took the No. 7 Chevy back to the garage, the media pounced with a mad rush to Patrick's hauler. While waiting patiently for Patrick to emerge, I counted 52 reporters waiting for her to speak, not something you see for a Nationwide driver who crashes early.
She was working with Dale Jr. and Tony [Stewart]. She would move back and then work her way back to the front. I wish she could have gotten to the end because I think she really had something for these guys.” -- Crew chief Tony Eury Jr.
on Danica Patrick
But this isn't your typical Nationwide driver. After reporters waited about 20 minutes, one of her PR reps informed everyone she would talk after the race because they planned to return to the track.
They did. Patrick was back in the race with 23 laps to go, but she was 48 laps down. She finished 38th, avoiding the carnage at the end and moving up one spot to earn one more championship point by returning to the race.
"Every point matters," Patrick said, "which is why we got back out there today."
Hold the celebration. Starting up front and finishing 38th is about as bad as it gets. Maybe she can reverse that Sunday, when she starts in the back for the 500.
She has raced well at Daytona in the past. Patrick started fourth, led a lap and finished 14th here a year ago in the Nationwide race. She felt this year's car was much better than that one.
"My car was really, really fast," Patrick said. "Even when guys were tandem racing right in front of me, I was able to hang right with them.
"The bummer of it is you have days where you car isn't great and nothing happens to you. So on a day when I have a really fast car, does it have to happen today? But it did and we'll move on."
We only can speculate how she would have finished (without wrecking). Probably in the top 15 and maybe the top 10, where she ran a good portion of the first 48 laps.
"I was really happy with the way she was running," Eury said. "She was working with Dale Jr. and Tony [Stewart]. She would move back and then work her way back to the front. I wish she could have gotten to the end because I think she really had something for these guys."
Not to be. Not this time. Patrick is 0-for-2 in Daytona races this week. She was running ninth on the last lap of her qualifying race Thursday, minding her business on the inside when she was bumped on the right side by former teammate Aric Almirola.
It shot Patrick's car violently into the inside SAFER barrier. Thursday's accident was not her fault. Saturday? A tougher judgment call, but Whitt gave Patrick's car an aggressive tap.
"He's young and hasn't done much pushing other than the truck series," Eury said of Whitt. "He was trying to help her and he got in the back of her."
It was a bad day for Danica, but 30 other drivers with busted cars can say the same thing after this wreck extravaganza.
Forget about it. Sunday is the show that matters.
"I can't dwell on this," Patrick said. "I still have the Daytona 500 to run. I have to buckle down, focus on that and do the best I can."
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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