Home » FEATURE STORY, NASCAR - Sprint Cup Series

Denny And Danica In Did-Not, Did-To Duel Spat

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 20 2015

Danica Patrick was at the center of a big wreck during Thursday night's Duels at Daytona. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Danica Patrick was fighting – make that BLEEPING – mad with Denny Hamlin after racing her way into the 57th annual Daytona 500 Thursday night.

Patrick rallied for a 10th-place green/white/checkered flag finish during the second Budweiser Duel At Daytona after a spin she felt was intentionally triggered by Hamlin with three laps to go jeopardized her chance of qualifying for the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season-opener.

In what played-out as a sort of lover’s spat in full view of the media, Patrick confronted Hamlin along pit road and grabbed his uniform with both hands.

“You get on my left rear and spin me out,” said Patrick, alluding to a similar incident during practice Wednesday afternoon on the high-banked, 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway . While Hamlin calmly told Patrick that “nobody has your back like I do,” Danica pleaded with him to “don’t be up my ass.”

Reigning Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson swept their respective 60-lap/150-milers to add to Hendrick Motorsports’ Speedweeks trophy haul. Jeff Gordon of HMS qualified on-pole last Sunday, with Johnson to start NASCAR’s “Super Bowl” alongside in Row 1 of the 43-car field.

Patrick, of Stewart-Haas Racing, will start Sunday’s 200-lapper in 20th. However, because Patrick’s car sustained significant damage Thursday night, she will go to a backup for the Daytona 500. Per NASCAR rules, Patrick will drop to the rear of the field before the green flag drops.

Needing a top-15 finish Thursday to qualify, Patrick admittedly felt the pressure as her damaged car underwent hasty repairs in her pit stall before the season’s first GWC.

“Holy crap, it felt dire,” Patrick said during a post-race press conference. “This whole scenario is crazy that the series has put us in. Actually I said (Wednesday), it’s horrible that it’s left up to other people and what they can do to you to whether or not you get in the race or not. I was like, I just need to not get caught-up in anything or have something like (Wednesday) happen. And the exact same thing happened.”

Patrick was referring to Wednesday’s Cup practice when she was spun and crashed after contact from behind from Hamlin while drafting in close quarters.

“It’s a stressful situation,” said Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS. “It’s fairly unfair, I feel like, based on how much is out of your hands at a track like this. I have no doubt I’m sure it was incredibly exciting but very stressful, and what I feel is unfair. I knew that I needed to just finish in the top-15. There was a million scenarios of like who does what in any race, who uses a provisional and who doesn’t. You can just drive yourself crazy thinking about all of them.

“Instead of thinking about all of the stuff I need to do to just make the race, I really just wanted to focus on having a good race. Everything was going fine till the end.”

Patrick was racing in the top-10 on Lap 58 when she and Hamlin crossed paths in Turn 3. “I thought that the car was really strong,” Patrick said. “I felt like I made a couple moves here and there. So it seemed good. Racy. Then, you know, it went from there.”

Patrick actually could not confirm if her car got loose in the draft, or if Hamlin took the air off her car’s spoiler from behind.

“It feels like the back gets lifted up and comes around,” Patrick said. “It didn’t feel quite as dramatic (Wednesday) in practice. But the same sort of thing. Something similar happens tonight where I look in my rearview mirror and he’s tight up behind me. I can see he’s staggered to my left rear, the car gets really light and spins around. Same thing.

“When we had a little chat afterwards, he told me my car was too loose…that was his explanation for why the car spun.”

Hamlin, who finished 18th, denied making contact with Patrick’s green-and-black machine in a separate interview.

“I was just trying to get – push her – and get close, but I didn’t – no contact made her spin,” said Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. “I just said, ‘You’ve got to tighten her car up.’ I can’t predict who has a loose setup or not. I mean, we’re superspeedway racing. I treat her as equal as anyone on the racetrack. She deserves her spot here, but you have to be able to run close to somebody on a superspeedway.

“You have to have your car stable enough to handle those situations and, to me, it’s not much different than what it was with the No. 22 (Joey Logano) and the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) last week only I wasn’t pushing her. I was just close to her and her car got loose and she spun.

“Thank goodness she got her way in the 500. I didn’t want to be responsible for that. I treat her as an equal on the racetrack. I’m not going to say, ‘It’s Danica, so I’ve got to make sure I just leave some extra room.’ If you’re out here in the Cup Series, you have to be able to handle those situations.”

Patrick countered that she is confident in her ability to race in close quarters. “Done thousands of miles of this speedway racing now and I haven’t found that to be a problem,” said Patrick, who will be making her third Daytona 500 start. “So I just think that he’s wrong. I think that he’s too close. I think that he’s taking the air and getting it off the spoiler, and he’s not squared-up either. That’s also part of the problem.

“I don’t know. Maybe he likes my left rear.”

Patrick pitted three times during the final caution for repairs to her car’s left-rear quarter panel. The accident pushed the second Duel past the scheduled distance, and Patrick lined up in 18th for the GWC finish. She took the white flag scored in the 17th position and drafted with SHR teammate Kurt Busch on the final lap to finish 10th.

Patrick said Thursday’s scenario in a backup car formerly run by Busch easily was the most pressure-filled of her NASCAR career.

“Yeah, that’s probably safe to say,” said Patrick, who thanked Busch for his help in the draft. “I think it’s one thing when you’re in a race and you want to do your best and have a great result. I’ve by all means been nervous at times. Probably two years ago starting on the pole (at DIS), I always get more nervous the further up I start.

“But this is a whole different nervous. A lot of it has to do with the fact there’s so much out of our hands as drivers. That’s my frustration. It’s one thing if it’s qualifying and then you go race at a traditional track where, you know, you pass. But this is just big pack racing where you just hope you don’t get into a wreck or somebody doesn’t get into you, right place at the right time.

“So there’s a lot of stressing-out. But there’s not much you can do about it. You just have to hope and pray for the best, be as smart as you can out there. That’s all you can do. This is the biggest race of the year and they (GoDaddy) need to be in it.”

Despite the post-race histrionics, Patrick said she considers Hamlin a friend. “Literally his bus (motorhome) is right next to my bus,” Patrick said. “I’m sure that this conversation will have to go on. But I don’t think that he understands and clearly I have my opinion and he has his. I don’t think we are on the same page about it. He thinks he needs to be close and I said, ‘You turned me.’

“So, I know that (SHR co-owner)Tony Stewart came down and said ‘You need to watch the replay,’ which is good to hear because my boss obviously was sitting there on my pit box and saw it. I’m going to go back and look at it too, but when I watched the one from practice he cut down and when he cut down it pulled my bumper around and got us sideways. We’re going to have to figure it out because this isn’t going to end well.”

Hamlin, meanwhile, reiterated he does not want to be cast as villain opposite one of NASCAR’s most popular personalities.

“I’ve got a great relationship with both of them,” said Hamlin, referring to Patrick and Stewart, a three-time Cup champion. “Danica is one of my better friends in this garage and Tony is too. They know I’ve got no intentions with those guys. That whole team _ I’ve got a great relationship with them. Trust me, I’m sitting there shaking my head when she spun out, but there’s nothing you can do. You can’t treat anyone…you can’t allow more room because of somebody different when you’re trying to go forward. I’m trying to help her efforts and I just…I got too close to her I guess.

“From my standpoint, I’ve got to give more room. Obviously, whatever is going on, her car is very, very loose and so I’ll know in the back of my head I can’t get but so close to her car because it will _ it takes it out of her control.”

The Duels established positions 3-32 for the “Great American Race.” Earnhardt, who will start third on Sunday, started from the rear in the first Budweiser Duel in his No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS after his original 10th-place effort was disallowed due to a ride-height violation found in post-qualifying inspection.

Junior led the last 18 laps Thursday to stamp himself as a prime contender for a third Daytona 500 victory.

“We knew the car was really fast when we got on the track Sunday,” said Junior, who is working with new crew chief Greg Ives. “I’ve had cars that have been real fast in the single-car runs and not draft well, then I’ve had cars that run real slow by themselves and draft awesome.

“It finishes a lot of moves. It kind of surprised me. It does a couple things that surprised me out there in the race. So I felt like the car made the job a lot easier.”

Despite his locked-in status as pole-winner, Gordon said he went for the win during the first Duel. The four-time series champion, who will be making his final Daytona 500 start Sunday, finished second, 0.185-seconds behind Junior. “I wish I could say this was an easy test but it wasn’t,” said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS. “I ran three-wide (a lot).”

Logano, Stewart and Clint Bowyer took spots three-through-five. The rest of the top-10 consisted of reigning Cup champion Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, Landon Cassill and Cole Whitt.

Johnson dominated the second Duel, leading 40 laps behind the wheel of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS. Kyle Busch finished second by 0.125-seconds and will start fourth while Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr. filled-out the top-five. Rounding out the top-10 were Ryan Blaney, Reed Sorenson, Mike Wallace, Justin Allgaier and Patrick.

Starting positions 33-36 went to the four fastest drivers from the qualifying session who didn’t make the race via either qualifying or the Duel-race finishes _ Aric Almirola, two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip, two-time Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth and Johnny Sauter.

Positions 37-42 are provisional spots based upon 2014 car owner points, going to the highest-finishing six entries who either didn’t make the field via qualifying or the Budweiser Duel _ former Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne, Sam Hornish Jr., former Cup champion Brad Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger, Casey Mears and Hamlin.

The 43rd and final spot went to Bobby Labonte, the most recent (2000) former Cup champion who hadn’t otherwise made the field.

Failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 were Alex Bowman, Jeb Burton, Justin Marks, Ron Hornaday Jr., Brian Scott and Josh Wise.

The Daytona 500 is scheduled for 1 p.m. (EST) Sunday, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its prerace show at noon.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 20 2015
No Comment

Comments are closed.