Danica returns to scene of Wheldon tragedy

Danica Patrick prior to the start of the Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway in...

Danica Patrick prior to the start of the Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Feb. 27, 2012. (JEFF HAYNES/Reuters)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:22 AM ET

LAS VEGAS - Danica Patrick can’t walk more than a few yards in any direction at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this week without thinking about her dear friend Dan Wheldon.

She said the events of four months, two weeks and 10 days ago when Wheldon crashed just 11 laps into the IZOD IndyCar season finale are forever etched in her mind.

“Obviously the last time we were here it was a sad weekend,” Patrick said Friday. “There won’t be a time that I can come to Las Vegas and not think about Dan and his family.”

Patrick is the lone driver from that Oct. 16 race who will now be back at the 1.5 mile high banked oval for the first major event at the track since that tragedy unfolded.

And she is all too aware of what that means, to her, and to the rest of the motorsports community.

At the same time Patrick said that it is her job and the job of every other race car driver competing in the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at LVMS to carry on with the task at hand.

She said it was with that attitude that she got into her No. 7 Chevrolet for practice Friday morning.

“As race car drivers our job is to drive the race car,” she said. “We need to be able to do that with our whole heart and mind so I went out there and drove like I would on any other day.”

Patrick said being on the track was actually therapeutic and it provided a time in which she didn’t have to be mourning.

“For the most part I am able to have something to focus on and so I feel I am able to do that when I am out on the race track,” she said. “And that is probably a really good thing especially when you are trying to get the car to its very limit. You need to be able to focus on that one thing.”

She said she was happy to have those moments.

“I think that it is in the moments that you don’t have a singular focus like walking up to the media centre here and you remember the kind of atmosphere that was here in October,” Patrick said. “At that point you remember and it kind of gets to you.”

She said as time goes by she is certain the hurting she still feels now will fade somewhat, but it will never disappear all together.

“I think time is a healer for sure,” Patrick said. “But there won’t be a time that I can come here and not think it. I think that is what a tragedy will do to you.”

Other NASCAR drivers also expressed their feelings about coming to Las Vegas after the Wheldon fatality.

Kyle Busch said while stock cars are extraordinarily safe compared to open wheel cars, it is still a very dangerous sport.

“I wouldn’t say our cars are perfectly safe, but certainly they do give you a false sense maybe sometimes, but anything can certainly happen,” he said. “Like I’ve said before, whether you’re walking across the street, playing out in the sand dunes or racing around a race track — there’s something that can happen around every turn.”

Greg Biffle said even though he wasn’t a close pal of Wheldon, he knew him and was hit hard by his death.

“It was devastating,” Biffle said. “I thought about it when I drove through the tunnel last night coming here. We all think about it because what we do is a dangerous sport.

“That’s an underlying factor we know that can happen with what we do, so you try and be the best prepared you can be when you go into all these races and anytime you get in the car, so that’s what I concentrate on is just being prepared inside and outside the car for what can happen.”

Biffle said he feels especially bad for Patrick who has to go through all those emotions all over again this weekend.

“As far as Danica, I’m sure it’s gonna weigh a lot heavier on her when she gets out there on the track,” he said.

FINISH LINES

Getting caught up in wrecks at Daytona and Phoenix in the first two races of the NASCAR Nationwide series left MacDonald Motorsports No. 81 Dodge program with a serious inventory problem. Unable to quickly replace three damaged chassis team owner Randy MacDonald purchased a pair of Toyota Camrys from the Rusty Wallace Racing garage that had closed its doors in the off-season ... Brian Vickers will be back in the Sprint Cup series — on a part time basis — starting at Bristol Motor Speedway next week with Michael Waltrip Racing. The former Red Bull racer will be in the No. 55 Toyota that he will share with Mark Martin. Vickers will drive in six short-track events, including the two Bristol races, plus those at Martinsville and New Hampshire. Elliott Sadler was initially set to take on the schedule before his NNS team owner Richard Childress vetoed the plan.

KAHNE GRABS SUNDAY’S POLE

Kasey Kahne surprised everyone with a NASCAR Sprint Cup Kobalt 400, pole-capturing lap of 190.456 m.p.h. Friday in the No. 5 Chevrolet at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Kahne, who is in his first year with powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, made his best impression yet in the young 2012 season.

Vegas native Kyle Busch will start beside Kahne on the front row Sunday after he put down a lap of 190.040 m.p.h in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Kevin Harvick was third fastest Friday in the No. 29 Richard Childress Racking Chevrolet at 190.014 m.p.h.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued his hot early season in the No. 88 HMS Chevrolet with a fourth fastest lap of 189.873 m.p.h.

Clint Bowyer rounded out the Top 5 in the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota at 189.807 m.p.h.

Reigning Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart will start seventh on Sunday with a lap of 189.667 and defending race champion Carl Edwards will start back in 21st position after all he could muster was a lap of 188.088 m.p.h. in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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