Putting all the hype aside, Danica Patrick climbed into her No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet on Saturday afternoon and made her stock car debut at Daytona International Speedway. Running the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 ARCA Series event, Patrick got firsthand experience running in the draft and banging fenders at over 190 mph.
Starting 12th, Patrick took her time getting used to the difficulties of racing in the draft. She was aggressive at times, communicated well with crew chief Tony Eury Jr., saved a wrecking race car and finished with a top 10. Not a bad outing for her first try.
“I felt pretty good, I was going side-by-side with people,” Patrick said. “And then at the end I was running eighth and I thought what the heck so I pulled out of the line and ran high. You can see I was racing by all of the marks on the car. The GoDaddy.com Chevrolet doesn't look very pretty."
Perhaps the biggest moment of Patrick’s race came on Lap 53 when fellow open-wheel driver Nelson Piquet Jr. – also making his stock car debut, but with much less attention – made contact with Patrick’s car. With a great run through turns three and four, Patrick stuck her nose under Piquet to make it three wide. Throwing a block, Piquet moved down on Patrick and sent her car through the grass. As the car slid back up the track Patrick was able to regain control – after briefly letting go of the steering wheel – to save the car from further damage.
After quick repairs by the JR Motorsports crew, Patrick was back on track and aggressively made her way through the field. As ARCA regular Bobby Gerhart earned his record sixth win at the "World Center of Racing" it was Patrick who was beating and banging her way to the checkered flag. Coming off the final corner racing with another NASCAR convert, Ricky Carmichael, Patrick was able to force the issue and come home with a sixth-place finish.
"I was just kind of hanging out there for most of the race," said Patrick. "There were lots of yellows. It feels to me like I got bumped a little bit in turns one and two (on lap 53). I just held to the yellow line because I know that you're not supposed to go below the yellow line to advance your position and I took myself out unfortunately. I was pretty excited to go from last to the top five.”
Following this successful outing, Patrick announced that the hottest thing to hit NASCAR in years will make her Nationwide Series debut in Daytona. Originally expected to make her first attempt in California, the encouraging run Saturday night appears to have been enough to push the date up.
With the higher level of competition in the Nationwide Series (as compared to the ARCA Series), it is unlikely Patrick’s NASCAR debut will be as successful. Restrictor plate racing is a unique beast and something Patrick is still getting used to. Unlike the ARCA event, the Nationwide Series race typically features larger packs, tighter racing and a smaller margin for error. While her stock car debut was a success this past weekend, the goals for this upcoming weekend need to be much more realistic.
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