DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Danica Patrick walked away OK after taking a hard hit to the wall in her qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday.
Her race car didn't fare quite so well.
Patrick was caught up in a crash on the final lap of the first of two 150-mile qualifying races, sending her car into the wall on the backstretch. The wreck ripped the front end off Patrick's car, and she'll have to use a backup car in Sunday's Daytona 500.
After being released from the infield medical care center, Patrick said she hoped her backup car might be even faster than her primary car.
"I'm just very disappointed that the car got crashed with two corners to go," Patrick said. "It's not how we wanted to roll into Sunday. We wanted to just be cool, calm and collected with no damage. But like I said, maybe that backup car's fast."
Maybe, she joked, the accident will turn out to be a "blessing in big disguise."
But Patrick's race strategist, Greg Zipadelli, was in no mood for jokes as his team tended to Patrick's wrecked car.
"Her biggest thing was she wanted to go out there and ride with a bunch of guys and be in there and earn the respect of them — she can do this, she's not all over the place," Zipadelli said. "I mean, I never saw her car move. I saw a lot of grown men couldn't keep their car under control. So maybe they need to work on that."
Patrick wasn't even sure what happened to cause the crash.
"I just got hit," Patrick said. "Just running on the bottom lane and I'm betting it was the chain reaction from the outside, it looked like. Guys get so close on the side drafting that they're touching you sometimes. I'm sure that at times, maybe in that situation it was a 'hitting' side draft. It was just probably a chain reaction."
Tony Stewart, Patrick's team owner for a part-time schedule in the Sprint Cup Series this season, tried to keep an eye on his driver as he also ran the first race — which Stewart ended up winning.
"I'll get a better shot (at) understanding exactly how her race went when I get to see a replay of the race," Stewart said. "The little bit I could see, I thought she did a good job. There wasn't any doubt in my mind she would do that."
Patrick spent most of the race running just outside the top 10, working her way up to sixth at one point. She had a close call early on, darting to the apron at the bottom of the track to avoid an accident.
"At times, it was much more calm than I expected, to be honest," Patrick said. "When we got single-file or very steady two-lane racing it was pretty calm. So I felt like I learned a lot. I was learning a lot about the side draft and what to do in those situations, how to get the most out of it."
Stewart said one of Patrick's biggest priorities right now is earning the respect and trust of fellow Cup drivers.
"It's hard for her now because she's trying to gain the confidence of the guys around her that she's solid and is going to make good decisions," Stewart said.
Patrick has committed full-time to NASCAR this year. She'll run Nationwide for JR Motorsports, and plans to run a partial Cup schedule driving for Stewart.
"I feel really feel good," Patrick said. "I feel comfortable, I feel confident, I feel like if things fall our way and I can take the experience from today into Sunday, I think it will be a good day. And obviously, things that are out of your control can make it a bad day, but that's kind of the excitement about racing."
Stewart knows Patrick hasn't yet shown what she's capable of in NASCAR.
"I think there's more aggression and confidence in her than what she showed here today," Stewart said. "It shows her poise and what she's trying to do to gain the other drivers' confidence."
Written by: Chris Jenkins (AP Sports Writer)