BRISTOL, Tenn. – Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin had had their differences in the past, but what happened in Saturday morning’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Bristol Motor Speedway had nothing to do with old grudges.
Nevertheless, contact between their two cars bent the sheet metal on both vehicles, Hamlin’s on the right front and Patrick’s on the left rear.
Patrick, on new tires, was struggling with the handling of her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and had difficulty holding the bottom. She had just let Clint Bowyer’s Chevrolet pass her to the inside, and as she approached Turn 1 at the .533-mile short track, Hamlin was closing fast behind her.
Patrick entered the turn low but didn’t hold the bottom, and as she drifted up off the bottom lane, Hamlin opted to try an inside pass but ran out of room. The resulting collision, though not a violent impact, was enough to do cosmetic damage to both cars.
“I had just come out on tires,” Patrick said. “They were cold and I wasn’t very good anyway – I was pretty loose. I came down the front straightaway and I put my finger out the window to point him by, but he hit me on entry. I don’t know if he… it looked like he came pretty close when he went to go to the inside, too.
“Man, I love Denny, but he makes a lot of mistakes behind me. I don’t know if he misjudged it, or I was going slower than he thought, but I put my finger out the window and pointed him by. I had no intention to race him. I was not fast enough. I don’t know, but the guys are going to try and fix it.”
From his vantage point, Hamlin couldn’t see Patrick’s signal.
“I was on the outside of her on the straightaway, so I couldn’t see the left side of her car,” Hamlin said. “I went to go low, but I don’t know if she had stuff on her tires. It looked like she was struggling and had stuff on her tires for a few laps there. I tried to go low and obviously we hung bumpers.”
Patrick’s troubles weren’t over. In Saturday’s final practice prior to Sunday’s Food City 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX), she was still fighting a loose handling condition and brushed the wall near the apex of Turns 3 and 4 approximately five minutes into Happy Hour.
After repairs, Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota, on the other hand, was fast enough to top the speed chart during final Cup practice with a lap at 126.129 mph.