Danica Patrick sends message but pays price
There is a small band of drivers who have often found themselves in the same place at the same time in Nationwide or Sprint Cup races with Danica Patrick, contesting either positions or parcels of asphalt.
Patrick has on several occasions driven away from those encounters feeling as if her relative inexperience in stock cars had been exploited beyond the realm of fair play.
Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Patrick chose to respond to what she felt was another slight from Landon Cassill. This time she drove away with a mangled race car that was unable to finish her eighth of a scheduled 10 Sprint Cup races. She finished 32nd and realized another area of her stock car education she must quickly address.
Patrick had expressed frustration with Cassill within in the first 80 laps Sunday when he made contact with a sideswipe that required minor repairs to her left front fender. Cassill informed Patrick through spotters that she was "in the way," she said.
"My situation with [Cassill] is really a product of frustration," Patrick said in a television interview from the garage. "He got into me on the front straight and said I was just in the way. That's really no good reason to hit me. If it's one time, I can imagine it's frustration, but it's been quite a few times with him."
Patrick attempted to exact revenge on Lap 155 after Cassill made a pass and veered onto the nose of her car. Spotter Tab Boyd had radioed, "This dude right here is getting awful brave," as he approached.
Patrick nudged the bumper of Cassill's No. 83 Toyota through the corner but moved up the racetrack with him, then finished him with a nudge to the left rear.
Cassill was able to save his car, but Patrick swerved sharply off the banking and onto the apron, then lost control and nosed hard into the wall.
"At some point I have to stand up for myself so this doesn't happen with other people," Patrick said. "I chose today. The bummer about it is that my car is out, and he's still out there going, so I've got to work on how to do that."
Cassill, who shared the No. 7 Chevrolet with Patrick at JR Motorsports in her first partial stock car season in 2010, finished 18th. He quipped over the team radio, "Rule No. 1 of stock car racing is, 'Learn how to wreck someone without wrecking yourself.'"
Patrick's actions drew a sharp rebuke from race strategist Greg Zipadelli, who was in his last race running Patrick's program.
"Bull---- right there," he said over team radio. "You know better than to do that."
Tony Gibson, who will be crew chief for Patrick with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2013, takes over the pit box in two weeks at Texas Motor Speedway. The cost of Patrick's decision Sunday will project to Texas, where she finished a season-best eighth in the Nationwide race this spring. She was slated to drive the same No. 10 Chevrolet there as the one she wrecked Sunday, she said.
Though she struggled with tight handling during portions of the race, Patrick was able to improve from a 40th starting position to 20th just before the accident, and was in position to maximize a Sprint Cup portion of the weekend that had been unfulfilling, with struggles in practice and qualifying and an engine change.
Perhaps the trade-off ultimately will be more valuable in a lesson learned and a message sent.