When Danica Patrick announced she was leaving IndyCar, she was also leaving all the IndyCar tracks that went along with the series. She made it known Indianapolis Motor Speedway would always be in her heart and she would one day go back – and win.
So it was more than fitting when the 2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series was announced, there was a change in venue from Lucas Oil Raceway to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
With the new double header came new logistics. The Nationwide series moved to the Cup garage and the Cup series moved to what is usually the F1 garage. Patrick said logistically the layout is not “the best” for stock cars. And that wasn’t the only thing different for the driver.
“It felt funny driving through Gasoline Alley,” Patrick said. “I’m used to walking.”
During her pre-race media availability, all of the talk was about her history at the track and her feelings about being in a different series.
“I think the best thing about coming back, it feels familiar and it feels comfortable,” Patrick said. “I’m always happy. I woke up this morning and I pushed the blinds open in the bus and I said ‘it feels good to see Indianapolis.’
“I don’t care what I drive, I just like being here. Obviously I’ve had great experiences (here). I just like the track. I love the tradition.”
But in the last few months, rumors have begun that Patrick will be returning to IndyCar in 2013 to race in the Indianapolis 500. As far as NASCAR is concerned, by then she will be racing full-time in the Cup series for Stewart-Haas Racing.
“I would love to do it, I’ve said it all along,” she said. “I feel like it was always my strongest race of the year. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t.
“It will only happen if it is with (a team) I can really have a chance to go out and win with. If we do it, it will be with a shot to be able to win. On top of that, there’s a whole lot of logistics to iron out. First and foremost, a good car.”
Back to NASCAR topics, Patrick said the difference between a stock car and an Indy car was the down force, saying she wanted more in the stock cars.
“The cars are getting very low in the corners, which can be a danger in IndyCar,” Patrick said.
The two practices were longer than usual since the cars had never been on the track before. Patrick was average, finishing ninth and 13th. She qualified 20th, next to Travis Pastrana (who yet again pointed out he qualified “between the girls,” referring to Johanna Long and Patrick).
Patrick’s race was uneventful until around lap 35 when she got on her radio and said “someone” was making her mad. It was clear on lap 39 who that “someone” was when she rammed into the back of the No. 98 of Reed Sorenson, wrecking both of their cars.
Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. immediately got on the radio and said, “We’re putting (the car) on the truck. When we do stupid stuff like that, we don’t go back out.”
Patrick was officially recorded in 35th and earned her fifth DNF of the season. Of the top 15 drivers in the series, only one driver has more DNFs than Patrick – Brian Scott, with six.
Of the wreck, Patrick said it was simply a racing incident.
“I didn’t mean to take him out, I was just trying to go around him,” she said. “It’s just a bummer.”
Sorenson, however, saw things a bit differently.
“We were about to pit and the next thing I know I was sideways,” he said. “I’m not sure there was much I could do. I thought I had it saved. I don’t know what the deal was.”
That wasn’t the only drama in the race. On the final restart, Elliott Sadler was black-flagged for jumping the restart. Sadler refused to accept the penalty but was eventually forced to complete a drive thru penalty.
Ultimately, Brad Keselowski would go on to win the historical race, giving Roger Penske his 100th NASCAR National series win and his first stock car win at Indianapolis. Teammate Sam Hornish – a former Indy 500 winner – was second. Ty Dillon, Denny Hamlin and Austin Dillon round out the top five.
After the race, Sadler, along with team owner Richard Childress, met with NASCAR officials to discuss the restart incident. Leaving everyone more confused, NASCAR said he didn’t jump the restart but he did beat the leader to the line. The penalty stood and Sadler now leads the Championship battle by one point over Dillon.
The series heads to a standalone race at Iowa Speedway next weekend.
Farrah Kaye is a NASCAR columnist for CBS Local Sports and is a member of the NMPA. Her previous articles have appeared on SPEEDtv.com, newsweek.com and she holds a degree in Journalism. Follow her on Twitter @Farrah_Kaye.