SONOMA, Calif. -- Danica Patrick had a top-10 car and was running in the top 10 for about 15 laps Sunday at Sonoma. She was thinking that this could be one of her best days as a NASCAR driver.
Then it all went sour, thanks to contact twice with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the 1.99-mile road course. Earnhardt rebounded to finish sixth in the Toyota/Save Mart 350, while Patrick -- who started sixth, her best in more than three years -- settled for 17th.
Patrick obviously was frustrated with the style on road courses of NASCAR drivers ducking to the inside at the final moment in turns and hoping to come out clean.
"It's just a lot of people dive-bombing, and it's part of what makes road-course racing exciting in a stock car because you don't climb wheels [like an IndyCar]. You just bump fenders," Patrick said.
"It just wasn't the day we expected to have today. Someday, though, it will go the other way. ... At least we took off competitive when everything was all squared off."
Earnhardt took some of the blame for the first accident, in which he followed Patrick into a hairpin turn, lost control, slid through the inside of the turn and collected Patrick on the other end.
"Wrong place, wrong time," Earnhardt said. "Danica was trying to protect her position, and I went even lower than we normally go. It's real slick down there, and I just locked up the rear tires.
"That was kind of a racing deal. I'll take some of the responsibility for sure."
Patrick felt that she didn't do anything wrong.
"He kind of lost it, and I went to the outside, and there were cars all slowing down ... and he spun across," Patrick said. "There was a lot of dive-bombing today, and I don't know what happened with him.
"But there's a limit to the amount of grip that these cars and the amount of braking power that they have."
Sixteen laps after that lap-15 incident, Patrick was on the outside of a three-wide with Earnhardt and Kyle Larson. That resulted in Earnhardt spinning Patrick, who then was in the path of her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and caused enough damage to knock Stenhouse out of the race.
"I don't think Danica knew that [Larson] had went to the inside of that one, and we all sandwiched together," Earnhardt said.
Patrick began her transition to stock cars by driving for Earnhardt in the Xfinity Series and is good friends with Larson.
"We're buddies, c'mon. What frustrates me more than anything is those guys are on four tires, and I'm not, and we stay out. It's not going to take long [to pass me]," Patrick said. "Just relax. But it is what it is."