SPARTA, Ky. – Danica Patrick skipped the postrace fireworks this time, but she still sent a message to Dale Earnhardt Jr. during Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
After being dumped in Turn 4 with 61 laps remaining, Patrick slammed into Earnhardt as their Chevrolets entered the pits together under the yellow flag two laps later.
Patrick had some choice expletives for Earnhardt on her team radio, but she declined to initiate a confrontation afterward between two of NASCAR’s most popular drivers that might have caused social media channels to melt (such postrace clashes aren’t unusual for Patrick, who grabbed Denny Hamlin after a Daytona 500 qualifying race in February).
Instead, Patrick slammed her helmet on the roof, tossed her earbuds and marched with purpose down pit lane in the opposite direction from Earnhardt’s car. She stopping briefly for a conversation with car owner and teammate Tony Stewart, who seemed to be offering some words of wisdom.
A representative for Patrick said she wouldn’t be speaking to the news media.
About 50 feet away, Earnhardt tried to laugh off the situation while making a simple case for his innocence: He had battled brake problems in his No. 88 since the outset of the race.
“I probably shouldn’t have been racing as hard as I was when we run into the back of Danica,” he said. “But I went into the corner, mashed the brakes to the floor, pumped it three times and then ran into her. Wasn’t nothing I can do.
“It sucks. I don’t like running into Danica because it gets a little bit too much attention. But I’m sorry for that.”
Earnhardt’s team managed to fix the brakes after the incident and salvage a 21st-place finish.
Patrick, meanwhile, finished 34th and fell two spots in the points standings.
“I imagine she was not (happy),” Earnhardt said. “I mean what am I supposed to say other than the truth? We didn’t have any brakes going into the corner. I know better than to run into her because it gets so much attention. There wasn’t nothing I could do. I mean as hard as I hit her, what the hell did she think I was doing trying to wreck her? We ain’t got no problem. It’s not like we were having a problem out on the racetrack with her. It’s not like I just drew her name out of a hat and decided she was the one I was going to run into tonight.
“I know that I didn’t have any brakes, and it’s hard not to do that if you are in her shoes. But it makes me mad because I didn’t have any brakes. I didn’t do that on purpose. I don’t know. She will chill out. It happens to all of us. I’m not too worried about it. I got a pretty good friend so I think we will be able to talk it out.”