NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Racing, Not Wrecking Others Will Help Danica’s Reputation

Prior to the start of the Aaron’s 312 at Talladega, there was a beat-the-clock challenge between a Nationwide series regular and a fan. The object was to name as many states as possible in a span of 30 seconds. The fan went first, and named about 20 of the states. Not bad, considering the brief amount of time she had to name them. The driver she was faced against was Danica Patrick, who reeled of 49 of them in alphabetical order, only missing one state. It was quite impressive actually, and if the racing thing doesn’t work out, she would certainly make a good geography teacher.

Unfortunately for every fan out there, that was the only reason to be impressed with Patrick on Saturday.

On the final lap, Patrick was drafting behind three-time IndyCar champ Sam Hornish, Jr. and tried to make a last-second slingshot pass by him. Hornish blocked, and the two made contact going to the finish line. It was a 13th-place effort for Patrick on a day when she felt that she very well could have won. Her frustration came to a head after the checkers flew when, clearly unhappy with the contact, she drove into the back of Hornish in turn 1 on the cool down lap, sending the Penske driver out of control and into the wall. Hornish said afterward that he had had a tire going down on the white-flag lap, and didn’t mean to block her. While both sides had differing opinions of to what happened after the race, Patrick has apologized and both appeared to have moved on from the incident.

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Danica Patrick has proven that she is fast on the racetrack, but will she earn the respect of her NASCAR peers?

I buy Patrick’s apology. I believe it to be sincere, and it seems like this incident with Hornish is already last week’s news. My concern is that Patrick has shown int he past that she is a hot head who doesn’t think before she acts in certain situations and that something like this could happen again. She tried to hit Morgan Shepherd’s car under caution two years ago at New Hampshire. She has done it before, and it’s reasonable to assume she will do it again. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and perform regrettable actions, but wrecking someone when the race is over or under caution is completely unacceptable. You don’t see guys like Mark Martin taking his anger out on another vehicle after the race. Patrick has said that it wasn’t her intention to wreck Hornish; she simply wanted to bump him and let him know of her displeasure. Considering they had just taken the checkered flag and were still going well over 120 mph, though, what did she expect to happen?

We saw the backlash that Kyle Busch received last fall in the Camping World Truck Series race at Texas, when he wrecked title contender Ron Hornaday, Jr. under yellow. You could say the circumstances were completely different; Hornaday was in the thick of the championship hunt, Busch was already on thin ice with a string of controversial incidents in the past, and that he ruined his day in the process. These all made it worse and was without a doubt fuel to the fire, but when it all comes down to it, they did the exact same thing. There is never a good reason for intentionally wrecking someone at all, whether the race is under the green flag or not.

What made Patrick’s actions a little more disturbing was that it came minutes after Eric McClure had to be cut from his car and airlifted to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center because of a vicious accident on the backstretch. The race was red flagged for almost 30 minutes with the medical crew tending to McClure, and the drivers were parked right before the entrance of pit road with a front row view of him being strapped to a backboard and lifted into the helicopter.

Wrecks like those are the ones where you just want the race to end, and it has to be in the back of the racers’ minds. Even though Patrick didn’t have any way of seeing a replay of McClure’s wreck, she admitted she was worried for him.

“I definitely was afraid for him,” Patrick said. “I almost was afraid to ask if he was OK. I hope and pray he is fine.”

(Note: McClure was released from the UAB hospital Monday night with a concussion and internal bruising and is expected to make a full recovery. It is still unclear whether he will be back in his Nationwide car this weekend at Darlington.)

After the whole safety issue, the biggest problem with Patrick’s actions is that Hornish isn’t the one who has to pay for the damage. His car survived over 300 miles of racing–which at Talladega is an honor in itself–only to have it destroyed seconds after the chaos is supposed to be over. Do you think Hornish is the one that has to log in the man hours to fix that car? No, it’s the crew members back in the shop in North Carolina who have a lot more work to do this week thanks to Danica Patrick. It’s fine that she has apologized to Hornish and is looking to put the incident past them, but it’s the behind-the-scenes guys with whom she really needs to clear the air. In fact, any time someone intentionally wrecks another driver, their penalty should be to help out with the repairs and pay the expenses.

In Patrick’s defense, she is showing that she won’t be back down from anyone and is trying to make a name for herself as a racer. She wants to be able to run with the guys and prove that she does belong. However, there are better ways to handle it, and actions like this past weekend’s won’t win over the respect of anyone. Her steps toward the top level in NASCAR continue this weekend at Darlington, where she will make her second career Sprint Cup start. We didn’t get to see too much of Patrick in the Daytona 500 after being caught up in a lap two wreck, so this could actually be seen as her true Cup debut. Hopefully, by the end of the night, Patrick will have taken the proper steps to earn respect the right way in her quest to be a Sprint Cup driver.

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