Danica learns lesson in retaliating at Kansas

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(Eds: With AP Photos.)

By JENNA FRYER

AP Auto Racing Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Frustrated with Landon Cassill at Kansas Speedway, Danica Patrick decided to send him a message.

She spun Cassill - and wrecked her own car, ending her race early. She was scolded by crew chief Greg Zipadelli, who complained over the team radio: "You know better than to do that."

Zipadelli isn't angry at Patrick, and he said he ultimately views Sunday's incident as a learning experience in a year that is supposed to prepare her for next season's jump to a full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series. But Stewart-Haas Racing had added Kansas to her schedule because the repaved track was opened early for testing and Patrick could gain invaluable seat time over the course of the weekend.

A bad decision midway through the race left her with nothing to show for her efforts.

"She should know better than to put herself in that position and to wreck a race car and to not finish a race," Zipadelli said . "You do not learn anything sitting in the garage. I know where she was coming from, she was frustrated. That doesn't make it right. But do I think she learned from that? And do sometimes those things need to be learned? Yeah.

"But I was disappointed because I thought she had done a really good job and had made significant gains from practice to the race. She was on the lead lap, and could have finished 18th or 20th. So I said she should know better because I say things I think need to be said at the time."

Afterward, Patrick complained about "consistent" on-track issues with Cassill.

"At some point I have to stand up for myself so this doesn't happen with other people. I chose today," she said.

Zipadelli backed up her claim about Cassill, who has "broken her chops at least the last four races and I don't know why. He hasn't raced her clean or professionally since we started this.

"I don't know if there's jealousy there that she's got this ride, because there is some of that with her, we see some of that from a lot of people in this sport," he said.

Cassill denied having any issues with Patrick, doesn't recall a pattern of problems with her on the track and said he is content being part of the building process at first-year team BK Racing.

"I don't want Danica's ride, I'm not jealous of Danica's ride," Cassill said Wednesday. "When I do race Danica, it's been for 30th, and we don't need to have problems racing for 30th. We need to show each other more respect racing back there. She could have had a good finish and she didn't. I hope we can both race each other better so she doesn't miss out on opportunities like that. We both are trying to make it. It's not easy for Danica, and it's not easy for me."

It's certainly not been easy for Patrick since she moved full-time this season from IndyCar to NASCAR, where she's running a full Nationwide Series schedule in addition to her Cup schedule with Stewart-Haas Racing. It's at SHR where she was paired with Zipadelli, and Patrick is the third driver he's had at the start of their Cup career. All have presented a unique set of challenges.

He was first paired with Tony Stewart when Stewart made the full-time leap from IndyCar to NASCAR. The driver was temperamental but his talent was unquestioned, and the duo won three races their rookie year while Stewart completed an impressive 97 percent of his laps. They won two championships in their decade together.

Zipadelli stayed at Joe Gibbs Racing when Stewart left to become his own team owner, and the crew chief was paired with 18-year-old hotshot Joey Logano.

The Logano project was far different. While they slowly made gains, the success never came. After one win over three seasons, Zipadelli said he was leaving JGR to reunite with Stewart as competition director at SHR.

Zipadelli's new job came with the task of running Patrick's program this season. Stewart hand-picked 10 races for her - he tried to pick the most difficult ones on the schedule - to prepare her for next season.

Based on what he's seen with Patrick so far this season, and compared to where he'd been with Stewart and Logano at similar stages of their careers, Zipadelli believes Patrick is doing just fine. He thinks she's just judged too harshly.

"I remember Joey Logano going to Texas for his first race and he was six laps down, but nobody picked on him," Zipadelli said. "People today underestimate how hard this is. They underestimate how good these drivers are. She makes more gains over the course of a weekend than Joey ever did at a race track. Even Tony, I remember going to Atlanta, he hated that place and there was nothing we could do. But she makes more gains over a course of a weekend than I thought humanly possible.

"She just starts too far off. So you have to be very methodical and let her learn, and let her make those steps."

Zipadelli had expected to finish the season with Patrick, who will run the Cup races at Texas and Phoenix to close out the year. But Tony Gibson and his crew are moving from Ryan Newman's team to Patrick next season, and will start with her the final two races of the year. Newman will be reunited with Matt Borland, who spent five seasons as Newman's crew chief at Penske Racing.

Why Gibson for Patrick?

"Tony is always very positive and that's the type of person she needs around her," Zipadelli said. "We didn't want to bring someone in from the outside we didn't know. Tony is an SHR guy forever, he wants to be there. Through the issues with Ryan, he's remained upbeat, his guys are upbeat, and he's not running through employees. He's got a real solid foundation, and I think that's important.

"That group understands this is a work in progress and her wins will be measured differently and they will take a sense of pride in being a part of it next season."

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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