It wound up starting with a nightmare: She made it only one lap before getting caught up in a wreck.
Just past the start/finish line of the front stretch of the Daytona International Speedway, Patrick got cracked by Jimmie Johnson after he'd been spun out by Elliott Sadler. There was no way she could avoid the wreck – the third time in three races here this weekend she was involved in an accident that wasn't her fault. Two other drivers – last year's Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne and David Ragan – were involved in the wreck.
She was not injured in the accident and never got out of the driver seat of the car when it was taken to her garage.
The damage to her neon green GoDaddy.com car was extensive. There was significant sheet metal damage to the front and side and her team worked furiously underneath the car.
Getting Patrick back out on the track was such a priority extra crew members were called in from other teams associated with her owner, Tony Stewart. She eventually returned to the track on Lap 65, putting her 62 laps down.
"Awesome work," Patrick told her team over the radio after she returned to the track. "Thanks for working so hard. I'll let you know if something feels really weird."
Patrick's team was looking for, at best, an upset victory here in her first Daytona 500 and, at the very least, a strong start to her full-time switch to NASCAR.
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Instead the accident ruined any chance of contention, and the goal shifted to getting her back out on the track to gain as much experience as possible in NASCAR's top-line Sprint Cup Series.
Coming into the race, Patrick was cautious with her goals. While she was in it to win it, as a rookie driver she knew the challenge in a race that is famous for its numerous high speed, multi-car crashes.
"The first goal is to finish the races and just see," Patrick said prior to the race.
It turns out she barely got started.
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