UPDATE 4:30 p.m. — Danica Patrick won the pole for Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Daytona, becoming the first woman to take the top qualifying spot in a Nationwide race since Shawna Robinson did it at Atlanta in 1994.
“I’m just happy I could turn the wheel, push the pedal down and start on the pole,” Patrick said of her 49.250-second lap around the speedway on Friday. “It’s great to be in this position.”
Trevor Bayne finished second, followed by Elliott Sadler, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Austin Dillon.
Danica Patrick did what any driver would do when she crashed Thursday during the NASCAR Gatorade Duel at Daytona International Speedway: She closed her eyes.
“I didn’t want my eyes to pop out of my head,” she joked Friday. She admitted that she’d watched a replay of the wreck and was not surprised that she took her hands off the wheel, as drivers are taught to protect their wrists. She was, though, surprised that her hands were so high on her helmet, perilously close to covering her eyes.
“I’ve had plenty of times where I have bruised my thumb, my bones on the wheel,” she said. “I was trained to — when there is no saving it [avoiding a wreck] — you let go. That is what I did. I don’t see any point in keeping my hands tangled up with anything that is going to be moving.”
Patrick skipped the first practice Friday as her crew readied her replacement car, then drove later in the day.
“Everything feels pretty good,” she said. “I hit my foot on the clutch, which is my fault because I moved the clutch pedal towards me. I hit my arm on the side of the seat because of the angle I went in on the right front. We are just going to trim the seat up a little bit. I actually feel better today. That is a really good thing because last night it was starting to get sore.”
The crash was the first in Sprint Cup for Patrick, who hit the wall in IndyCar racing.
“That is why I’m excited about this. Get the first big accident out of the way on my first IndyCar race. Get the first big accident out of the way in my first Sprint Cup race,” she joked. “I actually said that before I went to bed last night. I said [to her husband], ‘Honey, it’s just going to be finishing from here.’
“It’s a little different obviously in NASCAR. When you hit in an Indy car, you hit quick. There is a lot less recoil I feel like. It’s like you hit and you slide along the wall. Where I feel like in a stock car, oddly enough, the impacts feel kind of bigger. I think it is because of the room you can move and that the cars bounce a little bit more when they hit. They don’t just crush and slow down.”
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