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Danica Patrick isn't blameless for Denny Hamlin incident

Despite Danica Patrick's claims otherwise, responsibility for the wreck that nearly knocked her out of the Daytona 500 shouldn't fall solely on Denny Hamlin's shoulders -- not with her history of struggles while driving in traffic.

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The necessary evil of restrictor-plate racing is that two cars are significantly faster than one. Without someone pushing him or her, a driver will quickly fall behind a group of cars running together. Within laps the lone driver is in danger of being lapped.

It's why drivers talk emphatically about needing a drafting partner in races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. It's why the sight of two cars essentially suctioned together -- the rear car with its nose right on the bumper of the car in front -- is a common one.

An inevitable downside is two cars trying to function as a single unit can only work for so long without incident. And when someone mistimes a bump or pushes too hard through a corner, bad things tend to happen. That was what transpired between Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin in the second of two Budweiser Duels Thursday at Daytona.

Stationed in the upper of three grooves, Patrick was lined up directly in front of Hamlin with three laps remaining. At the time Patrick was running eighth, a position that assured her of qualifying for Sunday's Daytona 500. (Hamlin was already locked in.)

But as they sped off Turn 2 Patrick's car suddenly broke free, sliding down, then up the track and into the wall. At first glance it appeared Hamlin had misjudged and tapped Patrick when she was in a vulnerable position, an all too common occurrence on a speedway where the speeds are high and timing is everything.

Patrick even thought as much, radioing to her team that Hamlin for the second time in as many days had caused an accident that damaged her Chevrolet.

Replays, though, showed Hamlin never made contact with the rear of Patrick's car. He had either taken the air off her spoiler, which caused her to get massively loose, or Patrick simply lost it on her own accord. Not able to maintain control either because of aerodynamics, lack of ability or a combination of both.

Either the accident was simply that, an accident and a direct byproduct of plate racing, or Patrick didn't have the talent to be running in close quarters with the other drivers surrounding her. Patrick words and actions made it clear where the fault lay -- not on her shoulders.

"I am confident other cars get very close and things like that don't happen," Patrick said, after a heated exchange with Hamlin on pit row.

"(I've) done thousands of miles of this speedway racing now and I haven't found that to be a problem. So I just think that he's wrong. I think that he's too close. I think that he's taking the air and getting it off the spoiler, and he's not squared up either. That's also part of the problem."

But the evidence suggests otherwise. Since transitioning to NASCAR, Patrick has struggled with car control, especially when in traffic. A fact Hamlin delicately tried to point out when they debated on pit road.

"No one else is getting close to you," Hamlin said. "But we have to get close to you to get you going forward. To get you going forward, I have to get close to you. I know it got you loose, but I didn't hit you."

As the conversation continued, a flabbergasted Hamlin finally told Patrick he simply would no longer get close her on the track. If one were to read between the lines, that mere suggestion summarizes Hamlin's assessment of Patrick's acumen behind the wheel.

And if this were Hamlin's premise, would he be wrong in thinking Patrick was a lesser talent?

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Entering her fourth full season in NASCAR Patrick hasn't yet demonstrated the ability to control her car while getting jostled by other cars at 200 mph. She is most comfortable on the mile-and-a-half speedways where drivers can fan-out and close-quarter racing is limited.

The good news for Patrick is those kind of ovals are in abundance on the Sprint Cup schedule. Two such tracks are Kansas Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, where she finished seventh and sixth last season.

Daytona, however, is not one of those speedways. And it's why if Patrick wants to blame someone for Thursday's wreck, perhaps she should first take a look in the mirror before faulting Hamlin. Either that or accept the events for what it was: an accident with everyone involved sharing culpability.