Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tony Stewart Wins First Gatorade Duel, Danica Patrick Takes Huge Hit

Defending series champion Tony Stewart wasted no time taking new crew chief Steve Addington to victory lane, claiming his first victory of the year in Thursday's first Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying race.

Holding off a charge down the backstretch as the caution came out behind him, Stewart earned his 17th career victory at Daytona International Speedway. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-5.

While Stewart was celebrating his win in victory lane, Danica Patrick was being evaluated in the medical center following a hard hit on the final lap.

Running in the back of the draft, Patrick's car was sent sliding down the backstretch after contact with Aric Almirola. Shedding very little speed, Patrick made hard contact with the right front of the car, lifting three wheels off the ground.

Despite the hard hit she was able to walk away from the wrecked race car, but will have to go to a back up car for Sunday's Daytona 500.

"I mean I just got hit,"she said. "We were just running on the bottom lane and I’m betting it was a chain reaction from the outside it looked like. Guys get so close on their side drafting that they are touching you sometimes and I’m sure that at times, maybe in that situation it was a hitting side draft. It was probably just a chain reaction and I will go look at it and see if I can fix something or change something I am doing out there.

"Overall, I’m just very disappointed that the car got crashed with two corners to go," she said. "It’s not how we wanted to roll into Sunday. We wanted to just be cool calm and collected with no damage. I guess that maybe that back-up car is fast. We weren’t super excited after qualifying. Maybe this is a blessing in big disguise.”

See Patrick's wild ride here:

After smoking heavily on the initial start of the race, Robby Gordon was able to race his way into Sunday's race following a ninth-place finish. When the first caution of the day came out for an incident between David Gilliland, Juan Pablo Montoya and Paul Menard, Gordon was able to hit pit road and climb back into contention.

Along with Gordon, Michael McDowell was also able to race his way into the biggest race of the year with a sixth-place finish, thanks to a lot of help from Trevor Bayne.

"Phil Parsons Racing is a small team," McDowell said.. "We’ve got six guys back at the shop that worked really hard in the off-season to give us a fast car and it’s just cool to be able to carry the Curb-Agajanian brand, the 98 car, and to have K-LOVE radio – a Christian radio network on the car – and to have Curb Records as well is a good start for us. This is the start of big things for us.”

Two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip looked as if he was going to be able to race his way into Sunday's main event, but wrecked as he attempted to transition back onto the track after a pit stop late in the race.

"I just went the wrong way and lost the car," Waltrip said. "I feel like I let everybody down. I raced my way to the front and then I let them down. It's just really hard. I don't know what to say -- it's just sad. Thankful to my team and Aaron's for giving me the opportunity and hate that I let everybody down."

Always looking for a way to make money, Robby Gordon said following the Duel he would be willing to sell his spot in the Daytona 500 to Waltrip. "Hell yeah, (the ride) is for sale," he said.

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