Patrick’s closing speed on new tires was so great when she drove upon the damaged car of Michael McDowell that it led to a miscommunication and crash between the two drivers.
McDowell took blame for the accident, which occurred on lap 85 of the 200-lap race. McDowell said he thought he had given Patrick an indication that she should take the outside lane. When he veered to the inside, he said, it was too late because she was still to the inside of him.
“Tape all over the left rear bumper [of McDowell] is probably a bad sign and it turned out to be one,” said Patrick, who finished 36th in her third NASCAR start. “He just turned all the way down. It wasn’t even like a thump. It was a clash. I’m not sure what him or anybody was looking at or if they were looking.
“I heard you had to be a little careful out here. There’s a lot of rookies, and I’m one, too. But you’ve got to hold your line.”
The 27-year-old IndyCar Series star won’t return to NASCAR racing until June in New Hampshire as she begins to concentrate on her full-time open-wheel schedule. She started the race Saturday 37th but worked her way into the mid-20s before pitting and then racing among the leaders while on a different pit cycle.
After pitting, she was back up to full speed before getting into McDowell, who said drivers with faster cars typically go to the top but said the wreck was still his fault.
“I felt like I was on a roll, and it’s always fun to come out of the pits when you’re on a different cycle than everyone else because you have fresh tires and they don’t,” Patrick said. “Unfortunately, the fresh tires caught me out a little bit because I caught the car so fast.”
McDowell understood why Patrick was angry.
“She has every right to be upset,” said McDowell, who was several laps down because of a tire puncture earlier in the event. “I came out with a tore-up race car that is bare bond from top to bottom and she just came out on new tires.
“I ran the bottom of the straightaway to basically signal to her I was going to run the bottom and the closing rate was so much [that] by the time she got there, for some reason, she took the inside. It’s completely my fault. Not the spotter’s fault. … I apologize and I hope that Junior Nation and Danica Mania don’t attack me because I’m a big fan.”
Despite the crash, the race might have been the best for Patrick of her three NASCAR starts. It took her time to get comfortable in the car, and then she learned from her qualifying experience Saturday morning.
“This morning was crap – we didn’t practice qualifying and I had only practiced it one time,” she said. “I didn’t know how hard you could push the tires, so I held the team back in that area to be able to start further up the grid, but I sure as hell know for next time I need to push a little harder.”
But once the race started, she slowly was able to pass cars in front of her. At one point, Kevin Harvick pointed her to follow him on the high line.
“It would have been nice to have a decent finish,” Patrick said. “I was feeling better and better all the time. I wouldn’t have wasted any time on the bottom going slower and slower and slower after Kevin Harvick was pointing me up high after he went by me.
“Learning from that, which was so damn cool of him, I would have been better but we never got a chance to see that.”
Harvick said Patrick's willingness to ask questions prompted him to help her.
"She's been very open with us since she's come, and we've had a lot of conversations before she ever even made a lap on the race track," Harvick said. "She's always asked questions. She's always wanting to know what she needed to do. … She needed to be running the top of the race track at that particular time.
"People who ask for help, I'll give anybody help if they ask. She's been very receptive on what she needs to do, and she's been very open asking questions, so I don't have a problem helping."
While Patrick’s three NASCAR races resulted in a crash and 35th-place finish at Daytona, a 31st-place finish while struggling at Auto Club Speedway in California and then the disappointing end to what was a better day on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas track.
“Fontana was a big challenge,” Patrick said. “It was a real humbling weekend. I guess that it’s probably good that I went there because I’ve got to go there again so I might as well figure it out.
“I definitely was having a lot of fun here at a track that was slicker. [Crew chief] Tony [Eury] Jr. did a great job of bringing a great car that gave me confidence from the first run.”
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