On a day that Dale Earnhardt Jr. commanded attention for grabbing the outside front row starting position in next week’s Daytona 500-it was Danica Patrick that made the most noise in Saturday’s racing action at Daytona International Speedway.
The Associated Press
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Bobby Gerhart held yet another trophy.
Danica Patrick held her own.
Gerhart’s record sixth ARCA victory at Daytona International Speedway was overshadowed by the successful stock car debut of the IndyCar star, who rallied from a midrace spinout to finish sixth Saturday in the crash-filled race.
“It was a lot of fun,” Patrick said. “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 first foray into stock car racing was widely anticipated, and she didn’t disappoint.
After spending much of the race among the top 10, she bumped fenders with Nelson Piquet Jr. and spun out through the infield grass on lap 54, costing her any realistic hopes of a victory. But she charged through the field in the closing laps, getting as high as fifth with three laps left.
It impressed Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s sister Kelley, who was instrumental in putting together the deal that brought Patrick to the family’s JR Motorsports team.
“I think she showed us she was able to drive,” Kelley Earnhardt said. “One time I saw her up on the high side, she pulled down low. I kept thinking, ‘Come on, let’s up pull off an Earnhardt. Pass 18 cars in three laps and win this thing.’ ”
But she didn’t have enough to catch Gerhart, who has won the ARCA season opener six of the last 12 years.
Patrick will race a partial schedule in NASCAR’s second-tier Nationwide series this season. She has not yet decided if she will compete in the Nationwide opener at Daytona next Saturday.