A ho-hum return to NASCAR for Danica
LOUDON, N.H. -- A wreck on Lap 7 and a few angry accusations from the celebrity of the day. That was it.
The rest of the race was just a long practice session for Danica Patrick.
Welcome back to NASCAR, Danica. This is no easy task.
"It was a long day," she said after the race. "It's unfortunate, but I'm learning, and that's the way it's going to be."
Exciting it isn't. Nothing to see here, folks. For fans who came to see what Patrick could do, it was a boring afternoon.
Patrick finished 30th on Saturday in the New England 200, five laps down to winner Kyle Busch.
"I feel bad for the people who came out to watch me," Patrick said. "It can't be fun to watch the person you're cheering for go laps down early."
She started 25th in the No. 7 Chevy after a decent qualifying effort, but not that it mattered. The best-known driver in the field tangled with the oldest driver in the race moments after it began.
Morgan Shepherd, racing in the inside line on Lap 7, made contact with Patrick on the outside entering the turn. Patrick's car slid up to the wall as the yellow flag flew.
"He totally took me out," Patrick said on the radio.
Did he? It's up for debate. Shepherd might have drifted up the track a little. Patrick might have turned down too quickly.
"I got dumped in the corner and it's hard to recover from that," Patrick said. "I didn't see it; I just felt it. You guys probably know better what happened than I do.
"At least we were able to keep racing. But I think it may have changed the car. I didn't have any bite in the corners after that."
Shepherd took the high road after the race.
"I hate that I got into her," Shepherd said. "I've been doing this a long time and don't like to get into nobody. I always try to race everyone clean and not damage equipment.
"This is all new to her and she probably didn't know I was down low beside her. She didn't give me much room. When I hit the brakes, I slipped a little and got into her. I went over to apologize to her [after the race], but she was done gone."
Patrick went to the pits after the collision and fell a lap down as her crew worked to pull the left front fender away from the tire. Patrick shook her head in disgust, waiting to leave pit road.
"Don't you get some kind of penalty for that or something?" she asked crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. He informed her that it wasn't happening.
So Patrick gave Shepherd a little penalty herself, bumping his rear bumper on the restart and tapping him on pit road after the race. For the record, old Morgan, 68 years old and counting, finished eight spots ahead of Patrick.
When the race ended, Patrick quickly climbed out of her car on pit road and walked to his pit stall. She waited for the TV interview with her arms folded, looking down in disgust.
"It's a tough old deal," Eury said on pit road. "She's upset she didn't run a little better. She just needs a little time to calm down."
Patrick wasn't happy, but she sat on the pit wall and talked to reporters.
"I'm disappointed the car got damaged," she said. "It's disappointing to go laps down. It's disappointing to get passed by the leaders.
"But I was thinking it was a lot like the first couple of times I ran short ovals in an Indy car. You slide around a lot out here, but I learned a lot. I learned you need to let the car slide up in the corner to hold your position. Everything is still very new."
Even if the accident hadn't happened, Patrick wasn't going to stay on the lead lap long. She was two laps down after 32 of 200 laps. Any chance of her making it an interesting race was over.
"We got that damage on the left front and that hurt her," Eury said. "But she got to see how we race on these short tracks."
It was a training day, plenty of time to try to figure out how to improve on the difficult 1-mile oval at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a tight-turned flat track that gives plenty of young drivers a lesson in humility.
But Patrick kept trying.
"Got any tips on how to get this car to turn?" she asked at one point. Eury answered: "You just gotta search around."
When she did have a chance to pass someone, she found out that she couldn't make it work in the turns.
"Every time I go low I get more under-steer [push], so I can't pass him," she told Eury.
Eury said afterward he tried to give her pointers and encourage her.
"She told me once, 'The guy in front of me just hit the car in front of him,'" Eury said. "I said, 'Well, that's one way you get by people.'"
So she kept bumping and banging trying to make the best of it. Rookie Ricky Stenhouse got into the left rear bumper of Patrick's car midway through the race. Both drivers kept the cars moving forward.
That's the goal for Patrick now. Just keep moving forward. She goes back to IndyCar next weekend for the road race at Watkins Glen before returning to the Nationwide Series at Chicagoland Speedway one week later.
"She was learning something almost every lap," Eury said. "And it's a bigger learning curve than most people think."
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Terry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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