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Patrick back in Phoenix after Daytona wrecks

By John Marshall

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 3 2012 5:25 p.m. MST

CORRECTS TO MARCH, NOT FEBRUARY, AS ORIGINALLY SENT - Danica Patrick, left, and Kenny Wallace talk prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series race auto race Saturday, March 3, 2012, in Avondale, Ariz.

Paul Connors, Associated Press

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Danica Patrick was 3-for-3 at Daytona: three races, three wrecks.

Yeah, it was a tough trip, but at least she got something out of it.

"One of the biggest things I came away from Daytona with was learning how to crash," she said.

It sounded like a joke, but Patrick was serious.

The former IndyCar star is still getting a feel for stock cars and part of that learning curve is learning what to do during a crash.

She got plenty of practice at Daytona.

It started with a hard crash late in the qualifying race for the Daytona 500, when Patrick spun and slammed into a wall. She was criticized after an in-car camera showed her let go of the steering wheel, but that settled down quickly after it became clear that's how she was taught to react to an imminent wreck.

Patrick bounced back to become the first woman to earn the pole in a Nationwide race since Shawna Robinson in 1994. The excitement of that didn't carry over to the race; she spun into the wall when JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt nudged her rear bumper. Patrick returned to the race and finished 38th.

Her first run at the Daytona 500 didn't go any better.

After waiting nearly two days with the rest of the drivers for the weather to clear, Patrick was caught up in a big wreck on the second lap of the race after Elliott Sadler turned Jimmie Johnson. She returned to the track later in the race and finished 38th.

Disappointing? Sure it was, but Patrick's first full season driving stock cars is going to be filled with lessons, not all of them easy.

"I think it's important for me to sometimes get the other perspective where things don't always go perfect," Patrick said. "Those are the times you have the ability to learn the most and mature the most. That's kind of what I take from Daytona."

Back in her hometown, Patrick finished 21st in Saturday's Nationwide race at Phoenix International Raceway and is not running in Sunday's Sprint Cup race.

FENNIG'S SECOND: Jimmy Fennig hadn't been a crew chief for long when he helped Bobby Allison to his final win at the Daytona 500 in 1988.

Twenty-five years later, Fennig was back on Victory Lane at NASCAR's biggest race, leading Roush Fenway's Matt Kenseth to his second Daytona 500 victory.

Yep, after all the changes in NASCAR, the 59-year-old Fennig's still got it.

"It think that's amazing," Kenseth said. "I think it's harder to do for a crew chief than a driver to keep his performance at that level for that long. There are so many different rules and so much more technology that is introduced. The cars change, the setups change, the theories change, the aerodynamics change. Jimmy just adapts to the changes and still wins."

Fennig has led Roush Fenway cars to 32 wins during his career and helped guide the team to its second Sprint Cup championship in 2004 as crew chief for Kurt Busch.

Not long after his second Daytona 500 win as a crew chief, Fennig was already looking to move on.

"We live with these race cars," he said. "Bobby and Matt's wins were both enjoyable. But the big thing is, you have to make sure you are prepared for the next race — every time. It's nice to celebrate something like that, but you don't have time for a lot of that in this business."

KENSETH'S COMEDY: Among the numerous appearances Matt Kenseth made following his Daytona 500 victory was a stop at "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

Delivering a series of one-liners to Leno's question, 'How high are gas prices?" Kenseth said he was a little nervous in front a big crowd, but Leno and the crew helped him feel at ease.

And, yes, he did write some of his own material.

"He took some time with us, made us feel comfortable, did a little rehearsal and even changed some jokes a little bit for me and added some things I thought were funnier," Kenseth said. "He told me that, if I thought it sounded better like this, to go ahead and do it."

SLICK PIR: Drivers were impressed by the grip at PIR during the fall race after the mile oval was reconfigured and repaved over the summer.

They're not finding it so good the second go-round on the new surface.

Numerous drivers bobbled through their practice and qualifying sessions, particularly around turns 1 and 2.

Ryan Newman had to go to a backup car after hitting the wall in practice on Friday before qualifying sixth on Saturday, and Mike Bliss also had trouble, blowing out a tire while trying to gather his loose car coming out of turn 4.

"Yesterday, the track had a lot of grip," said Juan Pablo Montoya, who qualified fifth after his bizarre, fiery crash into a safety truck at Daytona last week. I really don't understand why the track is so bad right now."

With temperatures expected to climb on Sunday, the track will likely be even more slippery for the race.

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