NASCAR notebook: Danica suffers fiery crash in Sprint Cup practice at Dover

Flames engulf Danica Patrick’s car during Friday’s practice. (Submitted photo/Kathy Willes)

Flames engulf Danica Patrick’s car during Friday’s practice. (Submitted photo/Kathy Willes)

DOVER — Danica Patrick was on fire shortly after she hit the track on Friday morning.

But that wasn’t a good thing.

Patrick’s NASCAR weekend got off to a rough start when a mechanical problem with her car sent her into the wall during Sprint Cup practice at Dover International Speedway.

The car hit the outside wall on the front straightaway, then briefly burst into flames as it slid sideways across the start/finish line. It finally came to a rest along the inside wall.

What made the mishap even worse was that Patrick’s teammate and boss, Tony Stewart, then slid on the oil from her car. Stewart, who is still recovering from a back injury, hit both the outside and inside walls.

Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick

While Patrick seemed fine, Stewart walked gingerly away from his car.

“I mean you saw him walk out,” said Patrick. “He left the medical center so he is okay enough for that. Only he knows if he feels really sore or anything like that.

“I’m sure that anything that jolts his back will probably play some part. Hopefully, if it’s anything, it goes away quickly.”

Jamie McMurray also wrecked on the slippery track. He injured his left elbow.

As for the wreck itself, Patrick said she wasn’t sure exactly what happened. It took place only a few minutes into the practice session.

Patrick said she felt something in the car and then lost power to the engine.

“For sure there is oil all over underneath the car,” she said. “For sure these are not things you normally see anymore. You don’t really see a lot of failures like that. The teams always do such a nice job.

“Hopefully, Jamie and Tony are okay. It sucks when it takes other people with you, but unfortunate for sure.”

Hitting a wall

Dover had just completed two projects that added 479 feet of SAFER barriers to the track walls.

Ironically, though, Patrick hit the wall perhaps eight feet past the end of one stretch of SAFER barriers, which are designed to lessen impacts.

The frontstretch still has the old walls.

Patrick is in favor of more SAFER barriers.

“I think I saw it’s about twice the G-load impact when you hit a non-safer barrier,” said Patrick. “It shouldn’t even be a question whether or not tracks have safer barrier all the way around. It should be mandatory. It shouldn’t be a financial decision.”

The one argument against SAFER barriers along Dover’s frontstretch is that it would change the racing line here. But several drivers said that wouldn’t be a problem.

“We put Safer barriers in the groove at Darlington and it’s two-and-a-half cars wide,” said Kevin Harvick. “So, there’s really no excuse not to have it in my opinion. … We don’t wear our helmets and HANS devices for the impacts that we are prepared for. We wear those things for the instances where those one-off things can happen like happened today.”

“It would alter the line slightly here, but we go pretty fast here, especially in qualifying trim,” said Dale Earnhardt, Jr. “I’m in the gas in the center of the corner,
full-throttle, not lifting. So, it would be a hard lick. At this place you hit one wall and you slide down and you hit another. So, you’re going to get a couple licks there in some of those instances that aren’t going to be a lot of fun.”

New XFINITY format

The XFINITY Dash 4 Cash will make its Dover debut today.

The Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 200 will be contested under NASCAR XFINITY Series’ new heat race format, which is being used at four events this season. The first green flag will drop at 2 p.m., the main race is scheduled for 3:30.

The Dash 4 Cash format at Dover consists of two 40-lap heat races to set the field for the main race. The main race will be 120 laps.

Qualifying speeds will determine the starting positions for the two heats. Odd-numbered qualifiers will compete in the first heat, while even-numbered qualifiers will compete in the second heat.

The first heat determines the odd-number starting positions for the main event, while the second heat determines the even-number starting positions for the main race.

The top-two XFINITY-points-eligible drivers in each of the two heats will make up the Dash 4 Cash field in the main race. The highest finisher in the main among the four wins the Dash 4 Cash and a $100,000 prize.

Erik Jones won the first Dash 4 Cash race earlier this season at Bristol and Ty Dillon took home the $100,000 in the second event at Richmond.

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