Just one week after her whirlwind Daytona 500, Danica Patrick, and Danicamania for that matter, was brought back to reality in Phoenix. After her history making Pole position and 8th place finish, Patrick’s fan base, and her critics, were setting standards a little too high for this rookie driver. Before her four tires even hit the track at Daytona, most expected Patrick to be a contender in the Great American Race, but I don’t think they really thought she would do as well as she did. But then again, look at her Rookie attempt at the Indianapolis 500.
After her 8th place finish at Daytona, just her 11th start in NASCAR’s highest tier, many people were, and still are, expecting Patrick to qualify and finish high is multiple races this season. What they fail to realize is that super speedways are her specialty. She excels at them. The pressure of the high speed chess match out on the track plays well into her hands.
Heading into Phoenix, where she finished 17th last season, expectations were high for another great finish, but that didn’t happen. After a poor qualifying effort, she started in the back of the field (P40). Her team didn’t even have enough points to earn themselves a garage stall and had to be parked out in the dirt and sun.
During the race, Patrick ran in the mid-20s and 30s, battling her car all weekend although she didn’t lose the lead lap. On lap 185 of the scheduled 316, she hit the wall coming off of turn 4. Patrick was one of many who had fallen victim to a blown right front. Teammate Ryan Newman suffered two blown right front tires before it ultimately sent him to the garage.
Patrick’s blown tire cam at the worst possible time. Coming off of Turn 4, the blown tire sent her careening up the racetrack and straight for the wall, crushing the right side of the car. The impact was hard enough that her car bounced off the wall and back into traffic, right into the oncoming car of David Regan. Regan’s No. 34 made contact with Patrick’s driver’s side door, tearing off the sheet metal and spreading the interior foam of the door all over the race track.
“Thank God for SAFER barriers,” Patrick said of the so-called “soft walls” which are installed at every NASCAR track. “I’m glad I didn’t drive in the days without them, because they’re very important. Anytime you have a tire blow, you’re at full speed when it happens,” she said. “You don’t anticipate, you don’t slide very much, there’s no way to slow the car down. They always feel pretty big, and whenever they go in head-first, they feel even bigger.”
The impact was one of the hardest in Patrick’s stock car career.
Patrick’s boyfriend and fellow Rookie of the Year driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr was asked about his girlfriend’s wreck during a media stop at Texas Motor Speedway earlier this week.
“Coming around the corner and seeing all the sheet metal and the form from the door pad out, I knew it was a pretty hard hit and I felt like they would have told me if would have been hurt,” Stenhouse said. “But I feel like NASCAR has done a really good job, especially with the Gen-6 car, at making them safe, so I really wasn’t too worried and like I’ve been telling people from the start of this, when we’re on the racetrack we’re focused on what we’re doing.”
Both Patrick and Stenhouse said during media day a few weeks ago that when they are out on the track, they are focused solely on their racing and not on each other. I think that was evident this past weekend.
Danica Patrick and her No. 10 GoDaddy team will take on Las Vegas this weekend. It will be her first time here in a Cup car. Las Vegas is also the sight of Patrick’s highest finish in a Stock Car to date. She finished 4th there in 2011 in the Nationwide Series.
Can she pull out a good finish this weekend? I really don’t know. If she works hard and qualifies well, I believe she can have a good day. After Phoenix, Patrick is in need of a good finish because 2013 season points starts next week in Bristol.