Danica Patrick had a fast car. Danica Patrick had confidence. Danica Patrick was the one to beat.
But at Daytona, nothing is guaranteed, especially a win.
Austin Dillon, off of a win at Kentucky, took the pole for the Subway Jalapeno 250, but his time was disallowed after his car failed post-qualifying inspection. He lost the pole and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Patrick’s friend and sometimes drafting partner, took the first starting position, which bumped Patrick up to third when the green flag dropped. Patrick’s teammate, Cole Whitt, started second.
During practice, the teammates practiced the two-car tandem style of drafting.
“We did mostly tandem (drafting) and it’s just good to run together,” Patrick said. “(To) get back in the rhythm of swapping, seeing how cooling works and how long you can keep it cool. I feel like we should be able to bump draft for a (while). It can get crazy out there. Hopefully, it will be entertaining.”
In a special paint scheme honoring the July 4th holiday, the No. 7 GoDaddy.com / NASCAR Unites Chevrolet led the field fives times for a total of 13 laps, the second most laps led by a driver during the race (race-winner Kurt Busch led the most with 23).
Patrick had the best car on the track and when she was out front, no one could pass her. But on lap 83, the second (and smaller) “big one” happened. Along with Stenhouse, Eric McClure, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Blake Koch, the pack wrecked and brought out a five-lap caution. Patrick took a hard hit – so hard her steering column shot above her head. Her day was done and she recorded a 31st finish and a DNF.
“It’s a bummer. The car was really fast and I feel bad for Tony (Eury) Jr.,” Patrick said. “I was sure he was disappointed. I thought we were gonna win tonight. I was saying it felt like the IndyCar days when you were sure you were gonna win. What are you gonna do? There was an accident in front of me and you try to get around it. What are you gonna do?”
Being involved in the “big one” at a plate race is common and Patrick was just one of many drivers.
“It’s very frustrating,” she said. “I’m sure there are plenty of other drivers that have felt this frustration at Talladega and Daytona. I’m just kicking myself for getting in a position back there on that short run.”
Busch, driving for James Finch’s Phoenix Racing, brought home the team’s second victory (the first was Brad Keselowski’s infamous Cup win at Talladega), with a torn up race car.
The drama continued into post-race inspection, as Joey Logano’s car failed for being too low (the same infraction as Dillon the week before). Penalties are expected to be announced early this week.
Elliott Sadler still leads the Championship battle, two points ahead of Austin Dillon after his six point penalty last week. With this week’s post-qualifying rule infraction, it may be possible there will be an even bigger gap, making way for third place Stenhouse to make his way into the fight.
On the Sprint Cup side, there was even more drama as Tony Stewart failed post-qualifying inspection with the same infraction as Austin Dillon (but came back from 42nd place to win the Coke Zero 400) and A.J. Allmendinger was temporarily suspended after failing a mandatory, random drug test by NASCAR.
Both series head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway before a week off.
Farrah Kaye is a NASCAR columnist for CBS Local Sports and is a member of the NMPA. Her previous articles have appeared on SPEEDtv.com, newsweek.com and she holds a degree in Journalism. Follow her on Twitter @Farrah_Kaye.