There were actually a few bright spots about Danica Patrick's fourth NASCAR race, so let's start with those:
- She finished a career-best 30th and was not the lowest-finishing car at New Hampshire despite being five laps down.
- Her lap times improved toward the end of the race, showing she had picked up some lessons on a tough day.
- She was humble after the race and said she learned things that can help her next time.
So those count for something. As for the rest? It was ugly, embarrassing and even a bit shocking.
Most observers didn't expect Danica to run much better than she did (despite her stated goal of a top-15 finish), so that wasn't the surprising part. What was stunning was listening to her radio chatter and beginning to understand just how little she knows about NASCAR.
For example: When she was mired at the back of the field in 34th place, Danica grew frustrated at not being able to pass backmarker Mark Green and the unknown Charles Lewandoski, who only made the race when another driver was disqualified for illegal fuel.
"Got any tips on how to get this car to turn?" she radioed to crew chief Tony Eury Jr.
"Just gotta search around," replied Eury, who then tried to give her tips on how to beat another car through the corner.
"How do I set him up?" Danica asked a few laps later. "...Every time I try to drive past somebody, I just lose time! I don't know how to do it."
Later, when a driver tapped her rear corner to get her loose and make a pass, Danica seemed surprised at the contact.
"Did I do something?" she said. "I mean, why would he hit my corner?"
Eury Jr. explained that NASCAR drivers often loosen other cars in order to make them drift up the track and open the door for a pass.
"So that's like a technique?" she asked.
And toward the end of the race, she radioed her team to make an observation that sounds basic to any fan, but was new for Danica.
"There's more grip like down on the bottom than up high," she said.
Those type of comments are what a rookie driver would say in ARCA or maybe a Late Model series; they aren't typical radio chatter in the second-highest level of stock-car racing in the world.
And frankly, that's embarrassing. It's embarrassing for the entire sport when talented drivers can't get an opportunity to race in the Nationwide Series but a driver who has hardly any idea what she's doing in these type of cars can get a ride with one of the best teams on the circuit.
After the race, it was obvious Danica didn't feel good about her day. Seeming somewhere between disappointed and discouraged, she sat on a pit road wall, closed her eyes and said, "It's part of the process, it's part of learning. I know these things are going to happen. There's a lot of really good drivers out here. I was learning how to set people up and pass and how much track to use."
"Everything's very new for me," she said. "It's been a lot of learning. I thank all those people out there who want to keep watching me, because it can't be very fun to watch the driver you're cheering for go laps down and get passed, but I'm learning and it'll help me be better."
Early contact with veteran Morgan Shepherd – the driver of the "Racing With Jesus" car – left Danica asking her team if Shepherd would be penalized for what she perceived to be a blatant hit.
But while Shepherd acknowledged he slid up the track into the No. 7 car, he said Danica had yet to realize the importance of leaving racing room for faster cars.
"I was going down to the inside of her and she kind of squeezed me a little bit and I did slide up into her when I cut the car down," Shepherd said calmly after the race. "Just one of those things. I don't like to hit people and you don't see me run into nobody, neither. I don't know when's the last time I got into someone. I went over to apologize her, but she done gone.
"She hasn't learned yet when somebody comes up faster than her to give them room and go on. She's just got to learn that part of it. I wasn't the only one she was holding up, she was holding up other cars too. But she'll learn it."
Danica was asked why she seemed so surprised about the contact between drivers, as if no one had ever bothered to warn her. Either way, it was clear she hasn't watched much NASCAR.
Her explanation? She said she had been told about the physical nature of stock-car racing on a short track, but said she didn't fully grasp the concept until the final quarter of the race.
At that point, she said she began to slide up the track and simply take the spot instead of trying to "respect the lane."
"In IndyCars, you respect the lane because you can't touch," she said. "You'll either crash or flip or have something really bad happen. It's breaking that mentality of holding your lane that I'm learning."
Danica pointed out that she raced other drivers as cleanly as she could, moving out of the way for lead-lap cars time and time again.
"I didn't put up any fight," she said. "I'd much rather look like a fair driver who's going to give them room when it's not my day out there, and I think those kind of things come around."
It may seem harsh, but you have to wonder if Danica will ever be in the position to get that respect back. It's quite difficult to imagine her ever running up front at this point, because the other drivers have years and years of experience on her.
And the idea of Danica running in Sprint Cup? It seems impossible.
On the other hand, she did improve throughout the race. But her explanation for how she did it shows just how far she has to go.
"It sounds silly, but hitting your marks, that's important," she said. "You know, braking at the exact spot and picking up the throttle not too early.
"Those things all feel slow because you're not sliding or pushing or hustling. But those are the things that work in these cars. It's all just a tremendous learning process."