Danica Patrick’s much-anticipated NASCAR debut ended prematurely and without injury Sunday when billowing and blinding smoke contributed to her involvement in a 12-car wreck on the 69th lap of the Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Patrick had moved from 27th to 21st when Josh Wise banged into rookie Colin Braun, starting a chain reaction of wrecks in turn four of the 69th lap. Patrick, She boxed in traffic, couldn’t see because of surrounding smoke and ricocheted off Wise’s car.
Patrick then kidded across the grass and settled into a stop with heavy damage to the right-front fender of her GoDaddy.com Chevrolet.
“I literally couldn’t see a thing,” Patrick told reporters. “That’s the problem. If we could figure out how to have the tires make no smoke, there would be a lot less crashed race cars, but unfortunately that’s the inevitable of what’s going to happen here.
“It’s also the product of racing so close together. You don’t give yourself any gap to take some open space or see anything. I was just caught up in an accident like so many other people get in these big speedways.”
Twenty-two laps later, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was struck from behind by Brad Keselowski, and as he started spinning, Earnhardt flipped upside down when hit by Kyle Busch and was knocked back on his tires after he was hit by Brendan Gaughan.
“It was kind of expensive,” Earnhardt said of his two wrecked cars. “I’m going to have to go back and balance our books after this one. It was a rough day for JR Motorsports.”
The race was red-flagged for 11 laps after the wreck involving Earnhardt, and once it resumed, Sprint Cup regular Tony Stewart won the season-opening preliminary to today’s Daytona 500 — his fifth victory in the last six February Nationwide races at Daytona. In a 1-2-3 finish of Cup regulars, Carl Edwards of Columbia was second for the second straight year, and Kevin Harvick, who owns Stewart’s Nationwide car, was third.
But most of the attention was focused on Patrick, one of the stars of the open-wheel IndyCar Series, who ended up 35th today. Patrick made her stock-car debut last week when she finished sixth in an ARCA race here and will run 12 more Nationwide Series events this year, including next week at California.