“Nobody has your back like I do.” These were the first words to come out of Denny Hamlin’s mouth after Danica Patrick approached him on pit road following the second Budweiser Duel 150 race on Thursday evening.
Wednesday featured a practice accident between Patrick and Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin. While racing on the backstretch, Hamlin got into her, which sent her to a backup car for the Duel.
But on Thursday night, with pressure to make the Daytona 500, Patrick let her emotions out. On Lap 56, Patrick was inside of the top 10 when she spun out in the center of Turn 3. Hamlin was trailing her at the time – just a few inches behind – and claims he did not touch her. However, she believes otherwise.
“Yesterday when he went to pull down low, it just pulled my bumper around, but it tracked around, I was loose,” Patrick explained in a post-race press conference. “Then it spun and wrecked, we go on to the next car. Something similar happens tonight where I look in my rearview mirror and he's tight up behind me. I can see he's staggered to my left rear, the car gets really light and spins around.”
During the altercation on pit road, Patrick raised her voice and grabbed Hamlin by the collar. Attempting to explain himself, he put his hands on her shoulders in an attempt to calm her down. She told Hamlin that the incident “happened twice, the same person and the same way.”
"No one else is getting close to you,” Hamlin responded. “But, we have to get close to you to get you going forward. To get you going forward, I have to get close to you. I know it got you loose, but I didn't hit you."
The two are neighbors in the motor coach lot, and Patrick said she’s one of his best friends. However, entering a contract year with Stewart-Haas Racing and GoDaddy, missing the Daytona 500 would be considered the apocalypse of her NASCAR career. GoDaddy had to pull her Super Bowl commercial due to a controversy that was sparked from the 30-second marketing campaign, and she was defensive during the Media Tour when asked about her 28th-place finish in points last year.
Following the wreck, her car had minor damage, and she was able to continue for the green-white-checkered finish. Though she nearly lost the pack, teammate Kurt Busch gave her a push and propelled her to 10th place, which was six spots to the good of making it into the “Great American Race.”
“Holy crap, it felt dire,” she said. “This whole scenario is crazy that the series has put us in. Actually I said yesterday, it's horrible that it's left up to other people and what they can do to you to whether or not you get in the race or not.
“At the end when they told me I need four spots or you need to pass these two cars or you're 18th right now, I was like, Okay, do I have to be desperate basically? Do I have to pass these cars? Nobody answered me. I just said, Screw it, I'm going to be desperate. . . . Luckily it shouldn't go unsaid, Kurt was there for me. Without Kurt, I wouldn't have finished where I did.”
When everything settled down, Hamlin took his belief to Twitter and said: "On the streets of real life cops always give the ticket to the car behind in a accident. We will use that logic on this one.#tooclose#mybad. Folks I watched it back and was in the drivers seat so I know.. I did NOT hit her. BUT I was close, too close obviously."