Danica Patrick is Impressive in Her Stock Car Debut

Danica Patrick Faces a Tough Decision

Danica Patrick will race in both the IZOD IndyCar Championship on Oct. 2 and during NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend on Nov. 20 at THE Championship Track.

The record will show that Danica Patrick finished sixth in her stock car racing debut in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200, won by Bobby Gerhart. But that doesn’t begin to describe all that Patrick endured to achieve that result in the ARCA Racing Series opener at Daytona International Speedway.

The 27-year-old IndyCar Series star got quite an education in stock car racing - not to mention bump-drafting - in her first race in a fendered car.

Patrick, who started 12th, made a magnificent save after making contact with Nelson Piquet Jr. on Lap 54, spinning on the front stretch and sliding through the grassy tri-oval area. After dropping back to 24th, Patrick fought her way through the pack to run as high as fifth, before getting hung out in the draft and finishing sixth.

“I just wanted to be smart and make it to the end and I wanted to learn something in this race,’’ Patrick said. “You know, after we came back, which was really cool to come back to the top five again, I said, ‘What the heck, I’ve made it this far, let’s see what else I can do.’ So I just jumped up high and, unfortunately, not many takers came with me up there.

“It was a lot of fun. I bumped from the side, I bumped from the front, I got bumped from the back. I learned a lot and I had so much fun in a race car today. I can’t wait to do it again.’’

Patrick’s impressive performance, which was reminiscent of her 2005 debut in the Indianapolis 500 when she survived a spin to finish fourth, rekindled the possibility of her making her Nationwide Series debut in next Saturday’s opener at Daytona. Patrick, who in December agreed to drive a limited 12-race Nationwide schedule for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports team, is slated to make her Nationwide debut Feb. 20 in Fontana, Calif., but left open the possibility of moving it up to Daytona.

“I don’t think I’ve made any decisions on Saturday,’’ Patrick said. “I’m really just thinking about what I learned and what I can do better and proud of everyone’s hard work thus far. We’ve not talked at all about what’s going on next weekend.’’

But crew chief Tony Eury Jr. said he saw enough to believe she was capable of holding her own.

“It’s up to her,’’ Eury said. “I think she could run it and do fine. Is she going to be a contender to win? Probably not. She probably doesn’t have the experience that some of the Cup guys [have] who are going to be in that race. Can she run it and is she talented enough not to cause a problem? Yes. She would do fine at that, but we’ll just let her make that decision.’’

Patrick certainly impressed with her ability to hold her own in an ARCA event that has traditionally been known as a “crashfest,’’ with 80 cars involved in accidents in the last five races. Yesterday’s event was marred by six cautions for 36 laps, including one red-flag stoppage for repairs to the safer barrier wall after Jill George’s crash in Turn 4 on Lap 25. In all, 13 cars were involved in accidents.

Asked what surprised her about her first stock car race, Patrick replied, “There was a lot of yellows. A lot of yellows. Other than that, the car does get pretty loose when you get hit. But that’s all right. I tried to make sure when I did hit another car that I was in a straight line. Everything surprised me a little bit, but nothing was crazy. That’s why it was fun.’’

Patrick’s big moment came on Lap 54 when she induced the race’s fifth caution after making contact with Piquet as they went three-wide through the front stretch. Patrick’s car spun and slid though the grassy area, but she managed to maintain control and made a remarkable save by keeping her car off the wall.

“I think she showed us that she was able to drive,’’ said Kelley Earnhardt, the team’s general manager and vice president. “One time I seen her up on the high side and she pulled down low and I was like, ‘C’mon, let’s pull off an Earnhardt and pass 18 cars in three laps and win this thing.’ But she did fantastic.

“Her first stock car race, she was aggressive and didn’t back out of it and we brought home a good finish. I would’ve liked to have seen her in the lead, but, hey, I mean, she did a great job for her first race today. I think even the spin and all was good for her, to go back in the back and come back up there and learn, because that’s what she’s going to need to do if she’s going to be around these cars.’’

Danica Patrick--who announced in December that she will drive a limited NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule in 2010 for JR Motorsports—has made it official: She will double-dip at Homestead-Miami Speedway this fall, racing in both the IZOD IndyCar Championship on Oct. 2 and during NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend on Nov. 20 at THE Championship Track.

“I’m thrilled to announce our 2010 Nationwide Series schedule,” said Patrick. “Like I’ve said before, we just want to be smart and calculative about this process. The tracks we’ve selected not only complement the IndyCar schedule, but will give me quality seat time at a variety of facilities.”

Nowhere will she get more time in the seat in 2010 than in South Florida at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Danica’s decision to race at Homestead-Miami Speedway during Ford Championship Weekend adds even more drama and sizzle to what already was the ultimate destination for NASCAR fans,” said track president Matt Becherer. “It’s also quite the credit to the South Florida community that both of North America’s premier racing series choose to crown and celebrate their Champions at Homestead-Miami Speedway: Danica racing IndyCar in October, Danica racing NASCAR in November—it’s going to be a heck of a fall at THE Championship Track.”

Ticket information for both the IndyCar and NASCAR 2010 Championship finales at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be announced soon. Fans interested in the best available seats are encouraged to stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com. Tickets ($20) are currently on sale for the Grand Prix of Miami on March 6 at Homestead-Miami, featuring some of the top sports car racers in the world.

One of the most marketable and popular drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series, Patrick announced just prior to the new year that, in addition to her Andretti Autosport IndyCar ride she had joined forces with a team co-owned by NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"I think when the idea came about a few years ago…to run some NASCAR stuff, it really was a thought, but I wasn't as prepared mentally as I am now,” Patrick said in early December. "I've, over the years, had an increasingly busy schedule, and I feel like there probably will be almost more consistency to this schedule than what I've had in the last year or two.”

IndyCar’s first lady will make her stock-car racing debut in the Feb. 6 ARCA Series race at Daytona International Speedway and has left open the option to run the Nationwide race on Feb. 13 at Daytona in the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet.

“I think that the schedule doesn't intimidate me as much it used to,” said Patrick, who is under contract with Andretti Autosport in the IZOD IndyCar Series for the next two years with a mutual option for a third. “It's going to be a lot to learn. That's the real key part here is there is a lot to learn.”

Patrick turned her first laps in a stock car earlier this year at Daytona International Speedway during a three-day test for the ARCA Racing Series. Behind the wheel of the No. 88 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, she turned four laps in a 35-minute session that was cut short due to rain showers. She was 12th on the speed chart with a lap of 51.095 seconds, 176.142 mph.

“It’s definitely by far the biggest track that I have been on in a stock car since I’ve only ever been on a mile before,” Patrick said. “It was a big difference. The car moves around quite a bit. The car was definitely getting some action in the rear over the bumps. It was getting a little bit loose but I kept my foot in it and tried not chasing it too much with the steering. I was glad to get out there. It would have been nice to do a few runs and actually make a change or two [on the car] and feel things out. I’m definitely glad to have gotten that run. We will go from here. I’m happy with that, and we’re ready to build on that.

“I felt most disoriented with how the heck am I suppose to get my stuff on because I can’t get into the car with all that stuff on,” Patrick added. “I got to buckle my belts and I can’t do it with my helmet on. So I get in the car and I’ve got to tuck my hair down the back of my suit and I can’t do it because I’m strapped in. I’m just awfully confused. So I decided that I need to put everything on but my helmet and then get in the car. It sounds silly but it’s logistics and logistics that I’m not used to.”

Patrick’s full Nationwide schedule reads this way: Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 20), Las Vegas (Feb. 27), New Hampshire (June 26), Chicagoland Speedway (July 9), Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 14), Dover International Speedway (Sept. 25), Auto Club Speedway (Oct. 9), Charlotte Motor Speedway (Oct. 15), Gateway International Raceway (Oct. 23), Texas Motor Speedway (Nov. 6), Phoenix International Raceway (Nov. 13), and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 20).

It will be double the Danica at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2010. For tickets to see her race in both the IndyCar and NASCAR Championship finales, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call toll free (866) 409-RACE.

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