Ricky Stenhouse appeared to cause Danica's wreck
CONCORD, N.C. -- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. knew it was inevitable. Race cars run into each other, and the drivers inside become angry. It happens to teammates. It happens to friends.
At some point this Sprint Cup season it was going to happen to him and fellow Sprint Cup rookie Danica Patrick. That they are romantically involved would make it decidedly more scrutinized.
"Her and I talked about it, and we knew that after we got through Daytona everything would kind of calm back down and people would start talking about the race-track things," he said Saturday of dealing with potential distractions of the relationship. "But we haven't had any race-track problems, so it's still [calm].
"You never know. You get to those speedway races -- or even here -- and if something happens, get caught up in somebody else's wreck …"
On Sunday, it happened. Stenhouse and Patrick were involved in a crash late in the Coca-Cola 600 that marked their first on-track incident since they acknowledged their relationship.
Now come the inevitable questions, but they will have to wait a few days. Patrick left her car, after finishing 29th, and walked to her motor coach immediately after the race, and Stenhouse was not available.
Patrick was in 21st position, one lap down, and in the middle of a three-wide rush through Turn 3 on a Lap 319 restart when the front of her No. 10 Chevrolet made contact with the rear of Brad Keselowski's No. 2 Ford. Keselowski was sent hard into the wall, and Patrick sustained major front-end damage, requiring five pit stops to repair suspension and steering problems that had skewed her wheel to a 45-degree angle.
Keselowski took blame for the incident.
Stenhouse, two laps down, was in the lower lane as the sequence began, however, and television replays showed that his No. 17 Ford might have made contact with Patrick's car or impinged her line, causing her to lose control of the No. 10 Chevrolet.
That was clearly Patrick's initial interpretation, as she immediately called to spotter Brandon Benesch and crew chief Tony Gibson on team radio for verification. Gibson initially agreed with Patrick.
"Yep," Patrick replied. "He was laps down. … Pisses me off when guys do that."
Benesch, however, said he was unsure if Stenhouse was culpable.
Gibson also tempered his assessment after the race, saying, "I don't know who caused what or whatever."
Patrick returned to the race in 28th position and rechanneled her focus into riding out the rest of the 400-lap event after Gibson counseled her on the importance of finishing.
"I know it's a disappointment to her, but we controlled the things we can control and the rest, we let it go," Gibson said.
The damage made for a noisy, frustrating experience, especially since both she and her crew chief thought they deserved better after racing back through the field. Patrick had qualified 24th but started at the rear, by rule, because the team changed an engine after a practice malfunction.
"Damn. I feel so defeated," she said. "I just need some luck."
Then she called to Benesch again under another caution.
"Was I sideways before the 17 came up?" she asked.
Again, the spotter wouldn't blame Stenhouse.
"So the 17 turned me sideways?" she asked, prompting Benesch to inform her that "the 2 started it, for sure" and that he had read his admission on Twitter.
"It's hard to say," Gibson said. "The 17 was a couple laps down. We were passing him, and then the 2 car was on the outside of us. He went three-wide. He said he didn't see the 17 down there. Bottom line is we got wrecked. We'll go on."