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The sexiest racer in America looks like one tough cookie: Danica Patrick bounces right back from a wicked Daytona crash

   Danica: what a hit (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Danica Patrick was back in the NASCAR garage early Friday morning, bright and perky, and showing no ill effects of Thursday's frightening crash.
   In fact she carried on with the media, in yet another round of to-and-fro, in an amazing performance, really.

   A little perspective here, perhaps.
   Dale Earnhardt would be turning 61 this spring. And Patrick is up and kicking and back on the charge precisely because of the revolution in NASCAR safety over the past 10 years.
   Danica Patrick never met Dale Earnhardt (though ironically now she's driving for a team owned by his son).
   She is joining NASCAR's major leagues this SpeedWeeks, and in her Sprint Cup debut in Thursday's 150s she took a major league hit.
   Boy, was it ever a major league hit.
   Nose first into the infield wall off turn two. ( http://bit.ly/xiYHZ5 )
   No official report on the G-forces her car took, and her body, and no apparent MRI was called. But it was quite a hit.
   Yet less than 24 hours later she's back at it again, warming up for Saturday's Nationwide 300, and for Sunday's Daytona 500, her official Sprint Cup tour debut, and her longest stint yet in a stock car.

    Crew chief Greg Zipadelli and his newest student driver (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   It sounds like a broken record:
   Driver crashes hard, walks away.
   Driver crashes hard, walks away….
   Michael McDowell, at Texas.
   Elliott Sadler, at Pocono.
   Jeff Gordon, at Las Vegas.
   It's a long list really.
   Men who in another era would probably be dead.
   Now add Danica Patrick to the list.
   And just when you think there is almost no other twist possible to the media's infatuation with her, this DanicaMania….
   (In a footnote to this, and in another note on the generally dismal state of the big-league media world these days, one major U.S. paper Friday ran yet another giant puff feature on her, on A-1 no less, but buried her frightening crash on 9-C. Far be it from a newspaper copy desk to tear up the A-front for  breaking news.)


    Mark Martin getting questions from Danica Patrick (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Not that Danica Patrick has to learn how to crash, but is it different crashing in a stock car than an Indy-car?
   The in-car camera Thursday caught Patrick, just before impact with the wall, putting her hands to her helmet.
   "In Indy-cars, we learn to take hands off the wheel, because the holes for your hands are even smaller," she explained. "I've bruised my thumbs and injured bones on the wheel.
    "So when there's no saving it, no hope, just let go.
   "I was trying to save it, but I could tell 'No way; nothing happening here.'
   "I hit my foot on the clutch, and that's my fault, because I moved it closer to me.
    "No, I wasn't covering my eyes…but I was closing them," she added with a laugh.
    "Actually I feel better today. My husband is a physical therapist, and we have a lot of tricks back in the bus."
   Patrick's handshake, one of her signatures, "is a little weaker today," she said with a smile.
   "I was taught by my dad to shake hands like you mean it. To let 'em know you're there, and be strong."

   One of the worst crashes of her career was in her first Indy-car race, at Homestead in 2005 (http://bit.ly/x99qcs ). And she does hold the Indy-car record for most races without a DNF.
   "Getting the first big accident out of the way," she said with a laugh. "I told my husband last night 'It's all finishes from here.'
  "Your belts are tighter in Indy-car, because you can't move around in the car. Maybe I need to tighten these belts up.
  "These cars bounce a little bit more when they hit. Even in Milwaukee in 2005 when I spun and hit, the second hit felt bigger than the first hit.
   "This morning the only thing I think I might have done differently would have been to grab hold of the belts. I felt my foot was on the brake because the wheels weren't turning; maybe I didn't need my feet on the brakes."

    During her nearly hour-long run in the 150 Patrick was perhaps surprisingly deft and cool. No awkward moves, just nice steady driving, and in the lead pack:
  "I was starting to learn how the side-draft works. I made it up to sixth, and we were in an organized line. It was good to see how lines moved, how people worked.
   "I went back and watched the two races again last night. I notice a bit of bump drafting, particularly down the straights; I wasn't doing that, and maybe that's why I wasn't staying up. Maybe I need to start doing that.
    "I in general felt very comfortable. Didn't have a death grip on the wheel in the race. I was relaxed in the car, felt good…and I feel more comfortable for Sunday.
   "It was a disappointment not to make it around to the finish. The good thing is I did get that experience, though one mile short."

   The crash occurred the final lap, when everyone  in the pack was fighting for all they could get. Patrick was low on the track, with Aric Almirola to her right, and Jamie McMurray to his right. It appeared McMurray tried to squeeze Almirola low, and Almirola tagged Patrick, sending her head-long into the infield wall.
    Patrick and Almirola talked briefly Thursday afternoon at the infield hospital.
  "I did see Aric, and he was my teammate last year so I get along with him really well. First he said I hit his left rear corner; but I was a little mad at that, roll the tape. 'You came into me.' And he came back later and said he had seen the tape, and he had talked with Jamie.
   "To be honest I'm surprised it didn't happen on lap 10, that seems to be the way things are going."

   And now she has to start in the back of the 500 field in a backup car.
  "The team has been good about it all; they said they don't care about the car, 'as long as you feel good,'" she said. "They said they've got a good backup. I'm cool with that.
   "Everything happens for a reason…..


    The media may be giving this Sprint Cup rookie a bit more coverage than the average up-and-comer. But Danica Patrick has handled the massive media attention with gamey aplomb (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

For Danica's entire 2010

For Danica's entire 2010 Nationwide season, I predicted a high finish of 11th and an average finish of 17th. Especially given the cold temperatures at Fontana this weekend, she won't even be close enough to sniff a win contender's rear end. In fact, if she qualifies like she has practiced so far, she may need a provisional (which she does have) just to get into the race.UPDATE: Danica DID need her (purchased from the former CJM Racing) provisional. Considering that she was even slower than all the go or go home cars that made the race, literally buying her way onto the grid is the only reason she will run this afternoon/evening. Literally being the slowest car in the field does not bode well for Danica tonight.

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