TALLADEGA, Ala. – Danica Patrick was happy to leave Talladega Superspeedway with no broken bones.
She couldn't escape the NASCAR race Sunday without some bruises and a badly damaged car that caught fire and ran smack into an energy-absorbing wall with eight laps to go. Patrick climbed out after the 12-car melee, walked to the inside wall and bent over for a moment before emergency workers escorted her to a waiting ambulance.
"I would say that's probably the most scared (I've been), trying to hop out of a car with the fire on the inside," she said after leaving the infield care center. "I haven't had fire on the inside before. I've seen it on the outside.
"Honestly, I was thinking about my hair. I've got a lot of hair and I don't want to lose it. I've had a couple of practice rounds now of getting out of the car as quickly as possible, but that was the worst one so far. At Daytona a couple of years ago on the front straight without a SAFER barrier was probably one of the hardest impacts, but this one was probably worse."
Patrick said X-rays showed no broken bones but she had bruises on an arm and foot and her chest hurt when she took a breath. Plus, for a good reason: "My head feels like I hit a wall at 200."
Patrick was running in the top 10 in a race where wrecks collected all but a handful of cars at one point or another. Only 21 of the 40 cars finished on the lead lap, and 12 were knocked out of the race, including Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet.
To some extent, Patrick can just brush it off as the inevitable chaos at Talladega that might be crowd-pleasing but is jarring — both physically and mentally — for those swept up in it. The steering wheel was knocked out of position, and she had her breath knocked out in the collision.
"That was definitely not a fun ending," Patrick said. "I wish it didn't always have to end that way. Just at the end it's a little bit wide open. Even if you wreck you just hold it wide open. It's just dangerous, but it's exciting. I understand that. I like watching it, too.
"Especially down the backstretch, I wish there wasn't so much distance between the track and the wall, because you gain such momentum at that angle when you go there. I've had the unfortunate scenario of hitting the inside wall at a superspeedway a few times now. They're all bad."