SPEEDWAY, Ind. - Danica Patrick was middling in her return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway thanks to a race car that wouldn't turn as she would like. Still, her crew chief thought Patrick could push the car harder for more speed.
"We were running 53-flats (seconds per lap) all day (Thursday)," Tony Eury Jr. said over the in-car radio of Patrick's practice times. "Now we're running 54.30s. Make something happen."
Just laps later, the consequences of pushing her lime green No. 7 Chevrolet may have cost Patrick in her first return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since her eighth attempt in the Indianapolis 500 in 2011. Patrick made contact with Reed Sorenson on lap 39 of the inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series Indiana 250 to send both cars into the Brickyard's turn one wall.
Patrick's JR Motorsports machine took the brunt of the impact - "It's done. I can't drive it," she told her team after the car stopped - and hit first the outside then inside walls of Indianapolis' turn one and south shortchute. The Nationwide Series rookie was checked and released from the infield medical center.
"I'm fine. It's just unfortunate for our day," Patrick said. "It's a big race, a big weekend and a track I wish I would have done well at."
Patrick started 20th in the race and took responsibility for the incident. Sorenson's car, damaged, also went to the garage.
"I got in the center of the corner and got pretty close and I just tapped him," Patrick said. "I'm pretty sure he was slowing down quite a bit so I didn't mean to take him out. I don't know if he's still going or not, but I'm sorry if I did anything."
Patrick's crew deemed the car unrepairable, leaving her with a 35th-place finish in her Indianapolis return. She has made 19 starts so far in her first full-time NASCAR season and has just one top-10 finish. The Indianapolis result is her fifth race of the year in which she hasn't finished. The former IndyCar driver switched to stock cars entirely for the first time this year, and is slated to move to NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series full time in 2013 driving a car co-owned by three-time champion Tony Stewart.
Patrick ranked ninth in Nationwide Series points before Indianapolis, but will likely see her points position drop after the 100-lap race. The Indiana 250, the first Nationwide Series race at Indianapolis, is a precursor to Sunday's Sprint Cup Series event at the track.