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Danica Patrick finishes 38th in Daytona 500

Emergency workers try to extinguish a fire on a jet dryer during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Monday, Feb. 27, 2012. Juan Pablo Montoya's car struck the dryer during a caution period after something on his car broke. Emergency workers try to extinguish a fire on a jet dryer during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Monday, Feb. 27, 2012. Juan Pablo Montoya's car struck the dryer during a caution period after something on his car broke. (AP Photo/Rob Sweeten)
By Chris Jenkins
AP Sports Writer / February 28, 2012
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Three races, three wrecks. Even if it wasn't really her fault, Danica Patrick went 0-for-Daytona.

Patrick got caught in a crash on just the second lap of her Daytona 500 debut Monday, a continuation of a week's worth of troubles at Daytona International Speedway. After her crew made extensive repairs to her car, she got back in the race and finished 38th.

After noting that she was disappointed for any new fans who might have tuned in to watch her race, Patrick acknowledged that she also was disappointed for herself.

"I would have loved to have run up there. I would have loved to have got the experience when you actually were racing for positions as opposed to just feeling it out," Patrick said. "But I truly believe everything happens for a reason."

The accident came just minutes after the green flag dropped Monday night, beginning when Elliott Sadler turned five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. He shot into the wall, then rolled back down the track.

Patrick was coming along behind the accident and was caught in the chaos.

"I mean, I was pretty speechless," Patrick said. "I didn't really know what to say. I just pretty much kept my mouth shut and just sat there. Just breathe."

Her car took a hit and swerved down to the infield grass, where she somehow slid between two spinning cars. That was about the only good luck she's had all week.

She was wrecked at the end of Thursday's qualifying race, taking a hard hit.

Patrick then won the pole position for the Nationwide race on Saturday, becoming the first woman to win a NASCAR pole since Shawna Robinson in 1994, but she wrecked after her car was bumped by JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt.

Then came Monday, when Patrick once again was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Hey, at least she didn't hit a jet dryer, right?

"Nobody's hit a jet dryer before," Patrick said. "Good thing everybody's OK."

That distinction was reserved for Juan Pablo Montoya, whose collision with a vehicle used to dry off the track caused a huge fireball that delayed the race more than two hours.

After that bizarre episode was over and the race resumed, Patrick's main goal was to stay out of the leaders' way.

"As it got later and later in the race, I just didn't want to play a part," Patrick said. "I didn't want to have an influence on it. I didn't want something to happen."

Patrick figures the main lesson to take away from Speedweeks is to stay up front to avoid wrecks.

"The further up front you are, the better off you are," Patrick said. "But then again, you need that experience to get further up front, which is what I'm trying to get."

Patrick thanked her crew for its hard work to repair her car.

After the crash, Patrick's No. 10 team worked furiously, with crew members wielding new parts, heavy-duty tape, tools and even a welding torch.

She remained strapped into her car as the laps ticked away until her crew finally wheeled the car out of the garage. She fired the engine back up, getting cheers from fans watching from a balcony above the garage area.

"I'm sure this is not new territory for a new driver," Patrick said. "I just wish it could have gone better for everybody that was so excited, especially the fans. It was great to see them cheering all around the track."

It was the continuation of a disappointing Speedweeks for Patrick, who left IndyCar to concentrate full time on NASCAR this season. Daytona is one of 10 Sprint Cup Series races Patrick plans to run for Stewart-Haas Racing this season.

She's also running a full season in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports.

Neither project is off to a flying start, but she figures there must be some lesson to take away.

"I just wish the beginning of the race could have been a nice single-file line like it was when I got back out there, but it wasn't," Patrick said. "And honestly, that's my lesson to learn, maybe. Write off that first little bit if you're not up front."

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