Danica shows she's just one of the guys in her Nationwide debut
But while a 35th-place finish isn't exactly what the doctor ordered, the medicine she took as a rookie at stock car's "AAA" level is bound to help her down the road. Here are five things we should all remember from Saturday, the latest edition of "As The Danica Turns" (Left, many many times):
"The cars were just sliding down, so I just got on the brakes as hard as I could," she said on the radio. "I don't know how I didn't [hit anything], but I didn't."
But here's the catch in restrictor-plate racing: cars are so close together, at such high speeds, talent can only take you so far. You need Lady Luck on your side at all times, and the four-leaf clover flew out the window during the multi-car wreck that left Danica an innocent victim.
"In this one, I couldn't see anything again, I tried to slow down and we all hit," she said, learning a tough lesson about being at the wrong place at the wrong time. "That's the tough thing about this racing. I can see what they've said all along about these tracks, there was smoke that comes up and there was nowhere to go."
If there's a silver lining for Danica, it's that she wasn't alone. Just moments later, Earnhardt himself was turned to start a second straight major crash, flipping his No. 88 in a wreck so massive, it caused an 11-minute red flag. It's proof positive that tough breaks could happen to anyone, absolving her from blame in failing to finish.
There's also the not-so-simple matter of the rules. After the first caution, the IndyCar star had no clue whether the restarts were single or double-file (answer: double-file), then struggled with where to line up behind the pace car under the next caution. It's those subtle differences that should take time to iron out; but until then, she's proving why there's a yellow stripe plastered to that back bumper.
"It's almost like I get up behind [another car] and then I get the aero push," she explained. "If I drop back a car length or two and get a little lower than [the car in front of me], I feel 10 times better."
It may have helped her car control, but it cost her precious speed that put her far behind the leaders almost instantaneously. Most importantly, when she did try and pass she failed to realize the cardinal rule of drafting: don't take too long to pass a guy side-by-side if the single-file pack in front of you is pulling away.
"I feel like we're losing [the draft]," she said early on in the race when fighting
"When that happens, neither one of you have any help," crew chief
It was an elementary lesson Danica didn't learn immediately -- she went a lap down before getting it back through NASCAR's Lucky Dog rule -- but just before her wreck she had cracked the top 25 once again after fading from her 15th starting spot. Hanging on inside the lead draft, it seemed there was subtle improvement before that multi-car wreck wiped it all out in an instant.
"The car was finally where I liked it, " she claimed. "And I was confident as a driver that I could run in the pack."
But perhaps the funniest Danica moment of the day was when her car turned into the outside wall. As if the fire alarm was pulled, 75 percent of the media center got up and started running out the door to be the first in line to grab an interview. The only problem was, there were so many at her interview session, it got limited to two quotes and a simple statement about the wreck. It was yet another way for racing's PR goddess to control the spin from her latest adventures -- ones that have no signs of stopping anytime soon.
"I can tell you that I'll be a lot more confident and prepared for next year," she said, speaking in a tone that made IndyCar cringe. "This is some really difficult racing."
Yet through it all, racing's Golden Girl was having fun, putting her in position for a long-term future in this sport -- if she can only get the hang of it.