It was immediately obvious that when Ryan Truex came down the track ever so slightly and hit Danica Patrick during Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the contact was an accident.
Even at first glance, Truex's action didn't seem the least bit malicious or intentional. Replays confirmed the young driver simply got loose and was trying to avoid hitting the wall.
But Patrick's reaction afterward indicated she felt otherwise. She put on a show of displeasure, walking up the track and giving Truex a "What the hell?" gesture with her arms extended, then complained to ESPN that Truex "runs hard."
So while the wreck wasn't Patrick's fault, the part-time NASCAR driver isn't doing herself any favors with fans who are still deciding whether they like her or not.
Longtime NASCAR fans have seen that type of incident hundreds of times, and typically both drivers treat it as "that's racin'." Meanwhile, those type of angry gestures are typically reserved for a driver who made a much bigger mistake than Truex did – or acted intentionally.
Truex, for his part, was immediately apologetic after the race and emphasized he didn't mean to run into Patrick.
"It wasn’'t on purpose and I’'m sorry," he said. "I guess it’'s a racing deal. It'’s Bristol, it's tight and things like that happen. I definitely feel bad about it.”"
Patrick was particularly upset because Truex had made it difficult for her to pass him during a 20-lap stretch earlier in the race. She assumed his move may have somehow been out of retaliation.
But when she complains about another driver "running hard," fans have a hard time understanding what she means. "Running hard" at a short track like Bristol is often necessary, where letting another car go at a 1.5-mile venue is a different story.
Patrick won't return to NASCAR until after the Indianapolis 500 now, but it's important that she focuses on learning the NASCAR culture when she comes back.
Getting overly upset at a no-fault racing incident and making public criticisms for racing too hard at a short track isn't common among the NASCAR regulars, and thus won't earn her much street cred with NASCAR fans.