From disappointment to celebration: Danica Patrick bounces back after hard wreck

Danica Patrick and crew chief Greg Zipadelli talk before the Duel race on Thursday.
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR
After a vicious wreck Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Danica Patrick, looking dazed, told the media how “bummed” she was about her crumpled-up racecar and not being able to finish her Duel qualifying race for the Daytona 500.

On Friday, it was an opposite scene, one of jubilation, as Patrick captured the pole for Saturday’s DRIVE4COPD Nationwide race, her first pole in 26 starts as she begins her first full-time season in NASCAR.

The former IndyCar driver was introspective about her sudden change of fortune.

“I was thinking about how disappointing the end of the day was yesterday, and how happy you can be 24 hours later,” Patrick said.

The weekend marks Patrick’s first doing double-duty in NASCAR. In addition to kicking off a full season in Nationwide for JR Motorsports, Patrick will make her Sprint Cup debut in Sunday’s Daytona 500, the first of a 10-race Sprint Cup schedule this year. Patrick will be running the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet in NASCAR’s biggest race for Tommy Baldwin Racing through a collaborative agreement with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Patrick’s lap of 182.741 mph put the No. 7 Chevrolet at the top of the speed charts.

It also puts Patrick in the history books – she becomes just the second female driver to win a pole in NASCAR history. The first was Shawna Robinson in March 1994 at Atlanta. Patrick holds the record of highest-finishing female driver in NASCAR’s top three series with a 4th-place finish in last year’s Nationwide race at Las Vegas.

After Patrick made her qualifying run, she had to wait for 14 more cars to go out – “gosh, it seemed like a hundred, didn’t it?” she said, describing how long it felt - to see if her time would stick. It did.

Patrick was about 3/10ths mph faster than defending Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne. She beat out reigning Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., JRM boss Dale Earnhardt Jr., Stewart-Haas Racing boss Tony Stewart and Nationwide Series wins record-holder Kyle Busch for the pole.

Though her lap stood out in an impressive field, Patrick was modest, insisting it was all car, not driver. She gave all the credit to her crew chief, Tony Eury Jr. – it was his first pole at Daytona.

Patrick shared a humorous story about how Stewart was trying to convince her to actually take some of the credit for the fast lap.

“I was talking to Tony Stewart while qualifying was going on. I really was expressing how excited I was and how much I really wanted qualifying to be over to get the pole for Tony Eury Jr., because he really, really, really wanted the pole, and he’s never been on the pole before at Daytona, and he’s built some really good speedway cars. And that it really doesn’t have to do with me.

“And Tony said, ‘No, no, no - you need to tell them that car would have been 12th-15th if you hadn’t have been driving it,’” she said, laughing.

“The bottom line is that Tony builds really good cars, and the guys who helped him do that did a really good job. I’m really thrilled for Tony Jr. This is something that he wanted, so for me to be able to push the pedal and turn the wheel to get that done makes me feel good,” Patrick said.

In a restrictor-plate race, the pole isn’t as important in determining finishing position as in standard races; the main benefit is Patrick’s team will have its pick of pit boxes. But it does show Patrick has a fast car, which she’s hoping will attract drivers to work with her in the draft as she looks to gain respect.

“I think whenever you are fast as well at places like this, it gives people a little more incentive to work with you too, if I ever get in a position where I’m not with a teammate or not with someone that has talked it over with me,” Patrick said. “Hopefully it will open up some opportunities during the race if I need them.”

According to Patrick’s fellow Nationwide drivers, she already has their respect.

“In the last 24 months, she's by far the most improved driver we have across all three series,” said Elliot Sadler, who’ll start Saturday’s race in third, behind Patrick.

Saturday’s pole marks a promising start to Patrick’s Nationwide championship campaign, and she hopes the seat time will also prepare her for the Daytona 500. But Patrick isn’t satisfied with winning the pole – she wants more out of her Daytona experience.

“I don’t think any driver just sits on a result and thinks that’s enough,” Patrick said. “I need to go out there and I need to race well and be strong and do a good job. There’s a lot of factors, a lot of things can happen out there. I’m still going to look for a good weekend on the racetrack and the finish.”
From disappointment to celebration: Danica Patrick bounces back after hard wreck From disappointment to celebration: Danica Patrick bounces back after hard wreck Reviewed by Rebecca Kivak on Friday, February 24, 2012 Rating: 5