Danica Patrick saw a potential top-20 finish end in a heartbreaking accident less than 70 laps from the finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race Saturday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Patrick, who drives the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing via a collaborative agreement with Stewart-Haas Racing, was running 20th on lap 434 when the right front of Regan Smith’s car hit the left rear of her machine.
The contact sent Patrick out of control, and the nose of her GoDaddy.com Chevrolet slammed into the SAFER Barrier on the inside retaining wall.
The damage was too extensive for the GoDaddy team to fix with so few laps left in the race, and Patrick’s night was done.
It was a tough end to what had been a positive outing for Patrick, who was making just her fourth career Sprint Cup Series start and her first at the .533-mile oval.
After starting 43rd, Patrick stayed out of trouble and, with the help of spotter Tab Boyd, methodically climbed the standings while learning how to compete at one of NASCAR’s toughest tracks. She was as high as 17th on lap 325 and was in the top-20 and on the lead lap in the closing portion of the race. A solid finish was within reach until the contact with Smith ended her day.
“I haven’t seen the replay,” said Patrick, who finished ninth in the Food City 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race Friday night at Bristol. “We’re all racing hard. This is Bristol, and this is why people love this track is because you see a lot of that, and you see tempers flare. It’s usually part of the broadcast and when they describe what’s going to happen. It was just a bummer because I really felt like the GoDaddy Chevrolet was going to get a solid, maybe a top-20, finish and on the lead lap. And that wouldn’t have been something that I thought would happen tonight. The team did a great job, and everything was running really smoothly. So it’s a shame that we lost that. But you know, Bristol is a place where you find out who’s playing fair and who’s not.”
Patrick’s race strategist, Greg Zipadelli, was impressed with her continued education in NASCAR’s top division.
“Every place we’ve gone – when she gets around people, she really learns what she needs to do, and we’re able to adjust on the car and get her better,” Zipadelli said. “She gained a lot of speed. I would say by far this is her best effort.”
Denny Hamlin won the Irwin Tools Night Race to score his 20th career Sprint Cup victory, his third of the season and his first at Bristol.
Jimmie Johnson finished 1.103 seconds behind Hamlin in the runner-up spot, while Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers, and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top-five. Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 13 caution periods for 87 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.