What’s better than Danica Patrick in NASCAR? How about her first real feud with another driver?
The full-time IndyCar Series driver, who is a part-time NASCAR Nationwide Series participant, got her first experience at the dizzying BMS in Bristol, Tenn., on Saturday, when she ran into the rear quarter-panel of Ryan Truex’s car and crashed hard into the wall.
“What the (bleep) was that?” Patrick screamed in her radio after the crash.
Patrick was running 17th, two laps down, when she tagged the wall with 52 laps left; her first crash this season. Patrick was uninjured and walked up the track with her arms in the air when Truex drove by during what was the seventh caution of the race.
What was surprising with that move, however, is it was clear Patrick ran into the back of Truex, which caused her to lose control and smack the wall. Truex, who is just 19, said his car was loose and, as he tried to save it, it drifted into Patrick’s path.
“I guess she thought I meant to do that,” Truex said on the radio. What Truex heard next from his pit area on the radio was, “Don’t worry — she’s never been wrong about anything in her whole life. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
It was more an example of tight racing at the high-banked, Bristol short track, where “beatin’ and bangin” leads to “fussin” and “feudin” in this “Big Boy” and “Big Girl” version of NASCAR.
Truex, the younger brother of Spring Cup driver Martin Truex, Jr., showed great humility in accepting his share of the crash.
“It was my fault,” Truex said after finishing 20th. “We were fighting a loose car all day. We were racing there and came off the corner lose. As I was saving it I came off the corner and wrecked her. It was an accident and I apologize. I’ll try to talk to her. I hate it for them; they were having a strong run. It was my fault, sorry, didn’t mean for it to happen. I don’t race people like that.”
Patrick spoke of the incident as the race — which Kyle Busch won — neared its conclusion.
“It felt like I came out of the corner down the straight and he came off the wall,” Patrick explained after finishing 33rd. “I don’t know if he had a tank slap on the wall like he was pushing up. I know I was running him early. He just runs hard. He just runs really hard. He runs hard every time I’m around him and it seems like overkill. If your car is good you will go forward and if it isn’t you’ll go back. That’s just NASCAR.
“There was still enough racing left that whoever was faster was going to get ahead. I’m disappointed because this was a pretty decent run at Bristol for the first time. I don’t think it was too bad. I’m disappointed to not get the finish. It’s disappointing to leave for a couple months with this kind of thing but that’s Bristol, I guess. It gets the best of them.”
This was Patrick’s last NASCAR race until Chicagoland Speedway in June. She returns to her full-time job in IndyCar for next Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Part of Patrick’s appeal goes beyond her looks that have made her a sponsor’s dream. Her hot temper and feistiness have been displayed often throughout her IndyCar career. She grabbed Dan Wheldon after the two were involved in a top-five battle before she was punted off the track at The Milwaukee Mile on June 4, 2007. To Wheldon’s credit, he would not engage Patrick in any type of physical or verbal retaliation.
“Dan drives really aggressively out there,” Patrick said that season. “He said it himself on pit lane at Milwaukee that he’s tougher. I don’t know if tougher means rougher, because he doesn’t play completely fair out there. I even said that on my radio, ‘Dan better play fair today. I’m serious because he likes to drive up and intimidate you.’
She marched down pit road in an attempt to confront fellow driver Ryan Briscoe after the two drivers crashed on pit road late in the 2008 Indianapolis 500 before she was detoured by IndyCar Series Chief of Security Charles Burns. Patrick also was involved in an infamous battle with fellow IndyCar driver Milka Duno on pit lane at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2008 which ended with Duno throwing a wet, sweaty towel in Patrick’s face.
Her march up the track Saturday with her palms in the air as Truex drove by may seem mild by comparison to her previous fits, but this was the first time she had done that in NASCAR.
And nobody loves that better than NASCAR. It’s obvious NASCAR wants Patrick to become a full-time participant in its series if as much to steal IndyCar’s biggest name away from that series as anything else. But Patrick also brings attention to the series.
Patrick brings added exposure to whatever series she competes in and her first attempt at racing at Bristol was highly anticipated and widely publicized by NASCAR and the media.
Bristol is a track where drivers named Earnhardt, Waltrip, Petty, Yarborough, Allison and the Busch Brothers have achieved fame. Throw in a pop culture sensation as Patrick and it became “Can’t Miss, TV” even when the NCAA basketball tournament is the star of the day.
And, while Patrick ran near the top 10 earlier in the race, she was set for a solid finish in the top 20 before her crash.
She had wide-eyed anticipation heading to Bristol before that turned into red-eyed anger. But anger certainly fuels a good feud.
“I knew this would be challenging,” Patrick said. “This is unique as a short track. I look forward to going to tracks that are new for the experience of it so when it is fast and uncomfortable it makes it difficult to do well.”
Bristol has the highest banking of any track on the schedule — higher even than Talladega. The “Cereal Bowl” shape makes it look like a mad scientist came up with the design turning it into a high-speed roller-coaster ride at Great America.
“I came here Thursday and looked at the track just to see it,” Patrick admitted. “No matter how many races you see on TV it doesn’t give you the depth and perspective you see for yourself when you are out there. I wonder how they run at any short track, let alone one like this.”
She discovered that late in Saturday’s race with her crash. Unfortunately, NASCAR won’t be able to cash in on this feud until Patrick returns in June. By then, there may be other feuds that have developed, but none will have the impact of one involving Patrick.