Only one word describes Danica Patrick during a Daytona Speedweeks that’s been borderline disastrous: stressed. Two years removed from the 500 pole, she’s gone from media darling to having to give the same less-than-darling answers to the media 20 times a day. “Yes, I’m in the final year of my contract.” “Yes, I feel confident I’ll be re-signed.” “Yes, I haven’t made the progress you guys think I should make in NASCAR, but I’ve still made some progress.”
So the tension balloon rose its flag during Daytona Media Day, then failed to pop during a ho-hum Sprint Unlimited. The following Sunday led to Patrick posting a weak qualifying time, making her vulnerable to (gasp!) missing the Daytona 500. As it turns out, had she not finished in the top 16 (or 15 — let’s not go there) in Thursday night’s Duel, she would have failed to qualify. It was a pressure cooker the likes of which Patrick admitted after this race she had never been involved in before in her career; and that’s before you even mention Denny Hamlin’s front bumper.
That bumper will be mentioned countless times between now and Sunday, especially after two incidents in two days have left two No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolets a pile of trash. The Duel wreck, for all intents and purposes, should have taken Patrick out of the race and out of contention; it required a heroic effort from crew chief Daniel Knost to keep the car on the lead lap. From there, some fortuitous luck in the form of teammate Kurt Busch skyrocketed her to the front at the right time, saving the start of her season that nearly got FedEx’d to nowhere.
“We’re not on the same page,” she said of Hamlin’s take on the incident. Hamlin, for his part, claims he never touched Patrick, angry over the fact he can’t draft up next to her without the No. 10 car losing control.
“I treat everyone equal,” he said after the wreck, one in which he claimed his car came close but did not hit Danica’s rear bumper. “I just can’t say ‘It’s you, Danica, I need to stay two feet away because your car gets loose.”
Danica, of course disagreed with that assessment with some R-Rated language and plenty of PG gesturing after the race. In the end, the confrontation was pretty G-Rated c the NASCAR WWF we’ve seen of late; no punches were thrown and the two were separated without some sort of pit row fracas. Still, animosity remains between two friends, drivers who park their motorhomes next to each other but can’t seem to park that close on the racetrack in Speedweeks without tearing up equipment.
“I just think he’s wrong,” said Patrick of Hamlin’s viewpoint, claiming repeatedly on pit road to her rival, “You’re turning me.” Owner Tony Stewart also chimed in, claiming “It’s easy to get frustrated when the same guy has wrecked you twice in two days.”
Hamlin is already backing off on Twitter, taking responsibility even though he maintains Danica’s car was never hit. But he’s not the story here; the No. 11 car has speed, ran up front and joins a Joe Gibbs Racing quartet that’s capable of heading to the front of Sunday’s 500 like a bullet train.
No, even if Hamlin is guilty, the pressure, and therefore the scrutiny, will lie with Patrick. Daytona is supposed to be one of her greatest strengths; instead, she’s stuck fighting this silly controversy with a driver who isn’t even a true rival. She’s trying to defend her performance before there’s even a first official 2015 NASCAR performance to defend. That’s not a good sign for a team that needs to truly step up their game to stay intact for 2016.
At one point, Patrick asked on the radio post-wreck if she had to be desperate. The answer was never given; in the end, she didn’t need it. Desperation propelled her to a level of safety, a top-15 finish in the race that keeps moving her forward.
Except you don’t get the sense that Danica’s moving forward right now. You get the sense that she’s lacking a little confidence. How do you fix it? The answer’s more than just no Denny. Patrick needs to take a deep breath, exhale and simply just focus on racing for awhile.
“Holy crap, it felt dire,” she said, exasperated over her night. “It’s unfair… how much is out of your hands at tracks like this.”
That’s what makes it so difficult to gauge the wreck. Both cars must fall prey to the draft. Hamlin, as the driver coming from behind, must boost to increase their speed. This one could have gone either way.
Now, Hamlin simply needs to stay out of Danica’s way until Sunday. So why does it feel like that’s easier said than done?
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.
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Good points all. As a fan I have to question a lot of what is now is not trickling down, but coming at us in waves. Sorry, no fan of either, but jeez…isn’t that part of this nonsensical plate racing that Nascar coverts so much? Heck her team mate Harvick was mildly inconvenienced with no lasting consequences and he pitched a fit, Hamlin in this instance saw her losing momentum and at that rate of speed the obvious happened, I had some folks over to watch and they pointed it out to me, at the replay they seemed to be correct. I have to say, myself and others got “drama lash” already. Another observation tried and true..many other drivers (read-male) had sorry problems on the track, why isn’t there hugs and good wishes for them? I actually saw embraces and hugs…ugh. And yet her fans and media lovers still want to tell us she is a driver like the others until the almost tears come out and the guy she is pissed at doesn’t throw a punch but hugs her!!!!! And then her teammate comes and hugs her! Call me whatever, but this sport has been going in the wrong direction for some time. Sigh again.
kb, I agree with you. If she’s a racer, then act like one. IMO this is supposed to be equal opportunity. Don’t act the part of the damsel when it is convenient. Certainly Patrick has had opportunities galore and a well-funded car and team in every series she’s raced in. Did she really not realize that at some point, the media was going to find a certain level of glee in covering the down side just as they fawned over her earlier?
I don’t know if Denny was at fault or not, I’m not a fan of his either but let’s face it the pack racing that is a product of the restrictor plates means it is likely that someone is going to get caught up in someone else’s mess.
kb, I’m not sure that “covert” isn’t the correct word after all. Because we all know that NASCAR will TELL everyone they deplore the wrecks and don’t want to see anyone hurt, but really that’s not true, they LOVE the wrecks and they LOVE the fights. I’ll grant them they probably don’t want to see anyone hurt, but even that I’m not 100% sure of – if it boosts the ratings and attendance, IMO, NASCAR will pretty much covet anything.
Well said, Gina..thanks. I am not liking what I am seeing so far and it sounds like you don’t either. What a total embarrassing spectacle the whole charade was and it wasn’t just yesterday for me, it has been pretty much all of Speedweeks.
Gina, if anybody gets hurt, then the Kool Aid Kids can’t whip out their laminated cards and recite the “testament to the safety NASCAR builds into these cars” pledge with hand over heart, so at the very least I’ll bet some don’t like injuries, because it throws them off the “message.”
True words, Tim. There are drivers that I will readily admit that I don’t like but I don’t ever want to see someone get hurt or killed. When Dan Weldon was killed, it really upset me because he wasn’t planning to run that race until they offered him beaucoup bucks and then, it was all for nothing and all the $ in the world wasn’t enough to replace his life.
kb, I truly don’t like watching RP racing. I get that it is a spectacle and yes there are times when I find myself standing up in my living room but usually I find myself praying at the same time that the “big one” doesn’t destroy someone’s life. Every driver out there knows that a big wreck is pretty much inevitable and that just takes away from racing for me. It’s why I don’t think Dega should be part of the “chase”. Too much random chance.
Plus we have all this posturing and drama that seems to be happening between various drivers. I keep wondering who wrote the “script” for them because unlike the rivalries from say the Petty-Allison’s, Earnhardt vs well count’em, it was Earnhardt vs DW, Rusty, even LaBonte, as well as Gordon. The difference between the current huffing & puffing that goes on was that the racing between those drivers was intense. This crop of diva’s (and yes there are more than Danica that do the diva gig) just act like a bunch of schoolyard bullies on & off the track and look pretty stupid doing it.
Amen again Miss Gina!!!!!!!!!!
I don’t see her acting any more the Diva than any other driver that gets wrecked.
I get your point, there are quite a bunch of divas in the current crop of drivers, but come on, you have to admit that Danica has the diva stomp down to an art form. I remember her doing that in IndyCar. Personally I was always sorry that Weldon didn’t give her a serious piece of his mind when she marched down pit road that day. She tried that crap with Simone too one time but got more than she bargained for – after all, Simone was female, too and didn’t quite have the same problem with facing off with her unlike the male drivers who couldn’t respond the way they would have with another male.
“Totally agree!” said Brian, searching YouTube for the Danica Patrick/Milka Duno towel-throwing skirmish!
How about we all just get over Danica? There is more than one driver on the track that is there because they can bring a sponsor to the table. Not every driver on the track has tons of talent. The amount of coverage Danica gets isn’t because she goes running after every reporter and TV camera. And, she isn’t the only driver who hasn’t lived up to expectations. Beating this dead horse is not only getting old, but is starting give off fumes of, just maybe, sexism? Perhaps it’s time to give more attention to someone you think deserves it more?
This is past just getting old. And whether people want to admit it she does bring interest to the sport. Interest that it desperately needs by the way.
As for her getting extra attention, how about the 50% of the drivers, who arent doing any better than she is, yet don’t get criticized?
Look, at best, Denny did a dumb thing and caused a wreck when he was in position to do well coming to the end of the race. At worst, he hit her again on purpose and caused the wreck. As for Danica, she has the speed here, but needs to learn how to pick her lanes and who to draft with. And, if she really feels Denny wronged her, she needs to get real close to him the next time she has the opportunity and see how HIS car control is.
Wait for the next short track/road course. Just don’t do a Landon Cassil move…
Patrick is an embarrassment to the sport of auto racing. And don’t be fooled by Stewart. If the Pimp Daddy money goes away he will dispose of her like used toilet paper
She raced in with a damaged car and some help from a teammate.
yeah the teammate who got blackflagged.
So true, and Fox shoves her down our throats, another reason fans are dropping out. Jimmie won the race, but had to wait for his interview because miss hissy threw another fit. Sure she can drive, but she sure can’t race. Kurt Busch being black flagged earlier was the only reason wonder woman made the race sunday, he pushed her hard the last 3 laps. She feels entitled, when really she should be embarrased driving HMS cars, the best there are, and to keep moving backwards year after year. Excuses excuses and more excuses, your getting boring Tony & Danica.
This is the second time Jimmie won and his victory celebration had to be on hold because of this nonsense. I believe the last time was “The Pusher/Instigator” incident. I am seeing a pattern with the same team. I remember laughing last year thinking Jimmie said screw it, left the car and V-Lane and went home. What an embarrassment for the sport these displays are becoming. Last night I was saying goodbye to guests we actually said “not again” muted the Tv and went about our business.
Black flag had nothing to do with Busch pushing Patrick. She crashed, went to the pits to repair damage, and started at the rear of the field. Busch was in front of her for the final green flag. Which race were you watching?
Can’t disagree much with what was in the article or the written comments. Danica, like her or not, does bring some fan interest to the sport. Exactly how much seems to be hard to quantify. Of course, she was hyped by the media but what did the race fans really expect from her performance wise?
She’s made a lot of improvement since she started racing in NASCAR. But, how much more improvement will we see? I’m thinking she’s probably plateaued and we’ll see how long Go Daddy feels it’s getting sufficient bang for its buck.
Were those the only camera angles FOX could give us of the 10/11 incident? The blimp shot looked to me like there was never “contact” to the 10 from the 11. Took the air off the rear and around she went. Yet, ALL of the announcers claimed he hit her. Denny says he didn’t and I tend to believe him. Was really disappointed they didn’t show closer video of the two on the track when her spin started. Then again, that may have thrown a wrench into FOX’s narrative that Denny wrecked her.
Also, Did You Notice? (hat tip to Tom)… the two-shot video of Danica being interviewed on the right and Denny walking past Tony on the right? Tony gave Denny a pat on the back and kept going. Anyone read anything into that?
It looked like a plate-racing incident to me. I can understand her for being upset, when the same car dumps you two days in a row. I thought she was toast last night. Kudos to the 10 team, and a bit of luck, for getting that car in the show. The Duels last night were the most intense I can remember, especially number 2. It’s crazy that crew chiefs and spotters weren’t more aware at the end of the race that the lead draft only had 16 cars and if they all played it cool everyone would have qualified. The action should be even better on Sunday when its 40 degrees warmer. I don’t think it will be as easy for the leader to play defense. Speedweeks has been very entertaining so far.
danica patrick…. what an advocate for advancing women’s causes everywhere….
Danika is the spoiled brat of Nascar…Denny should have told her “pardon me for treating you like a RACE CAR driver…maybe there should be a standard set up for whiny girls on the track…And ya gotta know if it wasn’t for the “Go Daddy” money, Tony Stewart wouldn’t let her visit his Pit….when the money goes away, so will Danika…
Did You Notice; Na$Crap actually kept JJ, the winner of Duel #2, in his car, so that they could listen in on the track PA and show on TV, Princess Sparkle Pony’s lame rant. Nice piece of WWF work Na$Crap. Desparation move for publicity Na$Crap. Little b**tch didn’t mind getting shoved by Kurt Busch.
Not sure if anyone has realized this, and is part the reason I cant’ stand mulitiple choker Hamlin. Essentially he’s Russ Wheeler. He can run over anybody, plead ignorance, but when he gets hit, both he and Edwards are astonished they were touched and go postal.