Danica to make Nationwide debut at Daytona Feb. 13

By Doug Halberstadt

Sports Columnist

Following her sixth-place finish in the ARCA Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 last Saturday, Feb. 6, former Roscoe resident Danica Patrick has announced she will be making her NASCAR Nationwide Series debut in Daytona this weekend.

Patrick picked up 80 laps of stock car racing experience in last Saturday’s race and got a little taste of everything. She had

plenty of rubbing and racing, and she even went on a spin through the grass and still managed to bring her car back to the garage in one piece after all was said and done.

It was a pretty impressive stock car debut for Patrick. After starting the race in the 12th position, she fell as far back as 23rd with only 16 laps left in the race. She managed to stay calm and ended up with a debut top 10 finish.

Patrick drives the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet Impala in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports, co-owned by NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick. JR Motorsports left the decision about whether to run in the Daytona race to Patrick.

“It’s totally her decision,” said JR Motorsports General Manager Kelley Earnhardt, prior to Patrick making the decision. “I don’t know if one race is gonna put it in the bucket for her, so she’s going to have to think about that. She probably, right now, would be like ‘Hell, yes, let’s go’ because she’s beaming with excitement. But take the night to think about it.” Earnhardt, knowing the financial windfall that comes with the whirlwind of attention constantly swirling around Patrick, wanted her to run in the Daytona race.

“I’m ecstatic,” Kelley Earnhardt said after the ARCA race. “I think she showed us she was able to drive, definitely. One time I seen her up on the high side, and then she pulled down low, and I’m thinking, ‘Come on, let’s pull off an Earnhardt and pass 18 cars in three laps and win this thing.’

“But she did fantastic for her first stock car race. She was aggressive, didn’t back out of it, and we brought home a good finish. The team did a great job, and the communication was there, she was asking a lot of questions and learning a lot.

“I’m 50-50. I want to see her out there doing it, because this is what we signed up to do, but at the same time there’s a lot of experience out there that I don’t know if she’s ready for, and you’re not going to know until she gets out there, so it’s just going to be something that we all discuss and think about.”

Look for Patrick in the starting lineup this weekend at Daytona International Speedway when the Nationwide Series’ Drive4COPD 300 race airs at noon, Saturday, Feb. 13, on ESPN2.

Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.

From the Feb. 10-16, 2010 issue

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