Reporting from Daytona Beach, Fla. — Her Nationwide Series debut ended when she got taken out in a 12-car wreck, an unavoidable ending to a day that never really went as planned.
Yes, Danica Patrick still has plenty to learn about racing stock cars. She felt uncomfortable for a large portion of the Drive4COPD 300 on a cool and windy Saturday afternoon. She did not want to push ahead and be aggressive.
She stalled once coming out of the pits. She avoided one crash early on, but could not avoid the one that took her out on Lap 68, when she tried to duck low to avoid the spinning cars in front of her.
Instead, Patrick collided with the cars and slammed into the wall, then spun into the grass. She ended up finishing 35th. Patrick had said she was studying video of drivers to help her learn. Hopefully, she was able to watch the end of the race to study a man who knows what it takes to win at Daytona.
Almost predictably, Tony Stewart won, taking the checkered flag in the Nationwide race for the fifth time in six years. The victory was his 15th at Daytona International Speedway, tying Cale Yarborough for third-place all-time on the wins list here.
Despite that impressive feat, Patrick remained the story of the afternoon -- even after her team owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was involved in a spectacular wreck 25 laps later in which his car flipped on its roof.
A large media contingent swarmed around Patrick as she waited in the garage while her team attempted to repair her car. When she emerged, at least 100 members of the media, with still cameras, video cameras and tape recorders greeted her.
"It's important to have realistic expectations," Patrick said. "There's going to be spikes in performance, but there's also going to be tough days, and today was more of a tough day. I wish I would have run up there at the beginning and felt more comfortable, but I just didn't, and that just proves how hard it is out here and how much there is to learn and how good all these drivers really are."
Patrick started the race 15th but never really found her groove in the Daytona draft. She told crew chief Tony Eury Jr. over her radio that she did not feel comfortable pushing ahead and being aggressive. But during a pit stop, adjustments were made and she felt better behind the wheel. But that didn't help her avoid the accident ahead of her.
She wasn't the only one with bad luck. Earnhardt was in contention when he got caught up in a 10-car wreck on Lap 93. Mike Wallace, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Brendan Gaughan were also involved in the crash.
Stewart won following a dramatic final lap that featured a collision between Sprint Cup regulars Busch and Keselowski. It was a tough day for racing.
Patrick can tell you all about that.