Danica Patrick caught up in Lap 1 mayhem

November, 12, 2011

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- A former IndyCar Series driver won Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, but it wasn't Danica Patrick.

The JR Motorsports driver spent more time driving from her Phoenix home to the track than she did on the lead lap of a race won by 2006 Indianapolis 500 champion Sam Hornish Jr.

Patrick was involved in a multicar crash on the first lap that immediately put her two laps down. She finished 21st, four laps down.

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Danica Patrick
Todd Warshaw/NASCAR/Getty ImagesDanica Patrick limped off the track at Phoenix International Raceway after getting tangled up in a Lap 1 accident.

"Sorry," Patrick said over her radio immediately after the wreck.

Patrick, outside of this race at her home track, hasn't had much to be sorry about this season. Her average finish going into the race had improved from 28.0 in 2010 to 15.6. At one point she had three top-10s in four races.

She had nothing really to be sorry for Saturday as the wreck wasn't her fault.

"If I qualified higher I wouldn't have been in that situation," radioed Patrick, who qualified 25th.

Good point.

But Patrick did, despite a heavily damaged car, miss the six other multicar wrecks. Not everybody can say that. Elliott Sadler saw his championship hopes dashed because Jason Leffler dumped him, virtually locking Ricky Stenhouse Jr. into the championship.

"It just sucks when it happens so early," Patrick said of being knocked out of contention. "The early ones and the late ones are real sucky for me."

Patrick later settled into a groove and told crew chief Tony Eury Jr., "we can use this as an entire test session."

"Whatever you want me to try so when we come back in the spring we'll know what we are doing," she said, referring to the second race next year when she'll be competing in her first full Nationwide season.

She did.

"It sucks," Eury said. "You have them kind of days. You've just got to minimize them next year. That she got through the race is a positive. That's part of the game."

The improvement Patrick has made this season and what we saw out of Hornish set the stage for two former IndyCar drivers to be contenders for the 2012 championship.

As much as Patrick was disappointed that she didn't have a chance to compete, you had to feel good for Hornish. He failed miserably when elevated to the Cup series way too fast, finishing no better than 28th in the standings in three full seasons for Penske Racing.

That ultimately cost him his ride after 2010 and forced him to move back to Nationwide to start over.

"You're going to see a lot of Hornish in the winner's circle in the future," said team owner Roger Penske, who conceded he rushed Hornish into Cup too soon.

You may not see Patrick in Victory Lane anytime soon, but she is taking the right approach. She's shown after two part-time Nationwide seasons that she's ready for full-time competition next year.

Only time will tell if she'll be ready for a full-time Cup ride in 2013, but she's doing the right thing by easing into NASCAR's top series with a part-time schedule in 2012.

The best part of this weekend for Patrick was she got to sleep in her own bed.

The best part for that other IndyCar driver was he got to spend it in Victory Lane.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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