Danica Patrick crashes in NASCAR debut

Danica Patrick's NASCAR debut ended in a 12-car accident in the Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

Patrick was running in the middle of the pack when several cars wrecked in front of her just past the race's halfway point. She tried to duck low to avoid the spinning cars but was unable to dodge everything, slamming into the outside wall.

Her car then spun through the grass, but Patrick regained control and drove to the pits. Her crew pushed the car back to the garage with heavy damage to the front. She had been running outside the top 20 for most of the day until the accident.

Tony Stewart went on to win the race for the fifth time in six years.

"It's important to have realistic expectations," Patrick said. "There's going to be spikes in performance, I don't doubt that. But there's also going to be tough days. And today, I would say, was more of a tough day."

Patrick finished sixth in last week's ARCA event at Daytona, and felt comfortable enough to move her NASCAR debut up a week to the Nationwide season-opener.

The IndyCar star went into Saturday's start saying her main goals were finishing the race, staying out of trouble and learning as much as she can.

One out of three wasn't what she had in mind.

"I wish I would have run up there at the beginning and felt more comfortable, but I just didn't," Patrick said. "And that just proves how hard it is out here, and how much there is to learn and how good all these drivers really are."

Patrick's car is co-owned by Sprint Cup series star Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was involved in his own crash later in the race. Earnhardt said the fact that Patrick wasn't running near the front Saturday doesn't mean she can't be competitive in NASCAR right away.

"This is such a different kind of racing than she'll do the rest of the season," Earnhardt said. "I think that everybody should just take Daytona for what it is."

She's also scheduled to run the next two Nationwide races, at California and Las Vegas.

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