Danica Patrick had a smashing first race in NASCAR – literally.
Patrick's debut was spoiled when she drove into a wreck on lap 68 of the Nationwide Series race at Daytona on Saturday afternoon, putting a premature end to her much-hyped entrance into the stock-car world.
She finished 35th.
"I kept it straight, hoping they'd get out of the way, and they didn't," Patrick radioed to her team immediately after the wreck, which started when Josh Wise and Colin Braun got together in front of her.
In reality, there was little Patrick could have done to avoid the crash. But prior to that, it hadn't been a good day for her.
She fell as far back as 35th place and nearly lost the draft as the final car on the lead lap. Patrick was lapped during green-flag pit stops, but got the free pass when a caution finally came out.
"I definitely dropped back, but I wasn't really comfortable," she said. "I wasn't about to go firing it in to stay up where I started and crash. That wouldn't have been good for my day."
After getting her lap back, she drove up to 26th place and said she was just starting to get the hang of it when she was caught in the wreck.
"I could feel the difference [following pit stop changes] and I'm sure you guys could see it," she said. "I was running in the pack and I felt much better. I was more confident. I'm glad I got this head start on next year."
Patrick said her day was ruined because her earlier strategy of avoiding wrecks – staying straight and hoping the other cars wouldn't be there when she arrived – didn't work.
"I could see something happening out of [Turn] 4," she said. "I thought we were all under control again and then all of the sudden you see smoke. I literally couldn't see a thing.
"That's the problem. If we could figure out a way to make the tires have no smoke, I think there'd be a lot less crashed race cars."
As for the future? Patrick has races the next two weeks before taking a hiatus from NASCAR until June in order to focus on her regular job – running in the Izod IndyCar Series.
"It's important to have realistic expections," she said. "There are going to be spikes in performance, and there are going to be tough days. This day was a more tough day. That just proves how hard it is out here and how hard it is to learn.
"I think we would have finished strong if we would have finished – which was my goal – but as you can see, it's easier said than done."