Tony Stewart claimed his fifth victory in the last six Nationwide Series season openers at Daytona, emerging triumphant in a wild race that featured a number of multi-car wrecks, one of which knocked Danica Patrick out of the field. The IndyCar star retired from her NASCAR debut with major damage to her car after she was involved in an accident around halfway through the race.
Stewart took total control after a 10-car accident took contender Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of the race with a spectacular flip along the super-stretch, from which he was fortunate to escape uninjured. Behind the dominant Stewart, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Justin Allgaier raced three-wide toward the finish line for second, with Edwards taking the runner-up place.
Patrick had started the race from 15th on the grid and ran around the middle of the pack in the early laps, doing well to avoid a couple of early incidents. Later, she would drop back in the order as she struggled with the handling of her car, losing the draft as a consequence. By lap 40 she was almost 40 seconds behind the leaders, hoping for a caution to be able to stay on the lead lap.
She eventually dropped a lap down following her first stop, but would get back up to speed following adjustments to her car. On lap 52 the caution came out for the third time while Patrick was the first car a lap down, earning her the free pass back onto the lead lap, as per NASCAR rules.
Restarting from 29th place, she was racing her way into the top 20, until a major incident was ignited ahead of her along the front stretch on lap 68. At least 10 cars were involved and Patrick got caught up in it, hitting first another car and then the outside wall. She drove her car back to the pits (right), but following an inspection by the JR Motorsports crew, the team decided to take it to the garage and ultimately retire.
"That's the tough thing about this racing," said Patrick. "I can see what they've all said all along with these big tracks. Slow comes up and you run so fast there that there's no where to go.
"But the disappointing part more than anything is just that I missed out on getting 40 or whatever laps left of experience that I could have gotten. And the car was finally where I liked it and I felt confident as a driver to be able to run in the pack. So, I was kind of getting the hang of it."
Patrick added that she still learned from her first NASCAR experience, which she expects will make her better prepared for her second visit to Daytona next year.
"I can tell you that I'll be a lot more confident and prepared for next year," she said. "This is some really difficult racing, it really is.
"The cars are definitely on the edge here, and as you can see, someone gets a little bit out of shape and everybody is on top of each other. And since the car doesn't slow down very well, you're already on the edge when everything happens. I'm glad that I got that second stint in to be able to get more confidence out there, but it's never fun when crashing a perfectly good car wasn't your fault."
Chrissy Wallace, another female rookie entering the event, also retired from the race after being involved in an incident at the end of the first lap. Wallace got tapped from behind by Sprint Cup regular Paul Menard, and ended up crashing hard against the inside wall.