Patrick was in 10th place and trying to stay out of trouble in the bottom lane, just one lap from the finish in the qualifying race, when she got sideswiped by Aric Almirola. All afternoon, she had been judged and appraised by the other drivers, including her team owner, Tony Stewart, who admitted afterward that he stole glances in his rearview mirror.
It was obvious they were steering clear and sizing her up, waiting to see whether she would lose her head and do something stupid or aggressive. Instead she handled her car smoothly and patiently, tried to demonstrate “she’s solid and going to make good decisions and not just pull the pin every time she gets the chance to break out of line,” according to Stewart. “It was really impressive to watch how she just kept picking her way through the field.”
As it turned out, the crash proved the point more than a clean finish could have. For grace under pressure, how about being forced off the track and into a wall, ruining your car before your big debut, and then walking off the track without a wobble, or a complaint? “It’s not how we wanted to roll into Sunday,” she said. “We wanted to be cool, calm and collected with no damage.”
One day later, she won the pole for Saturday’s season-opening Nationwide Series race
at Daytona, where she was involved in a second crash and finished 38th, but shook that off, too.
I’ve always liked Patrick a lot, because she owns herself. Her image and sexuality belong to no one. They are nobody’s property but hers, to do with as she pleases, and she reserves the right to play bait-and-switch with them. She’s an expert self-promoter, with as much control in that area as she has over a car. For all of the discussion about her risque Go-Daddy commercials, they are all suggestion and little exposure, with a lot of zipper sounds but not a lot of skin. Off camera, she’s firmly married and very private. Good for her.
As an athlete, she has no political or social agenda, she’s never bought into what Camille Paglia calls “Infirmary Feminism, with its bedlam of bellyachers.” She knows better than to whine about patriarchy in racing, because the sport made her a millionaire. Every good car she’s gotten came from a guy. Again, good for her.