Danica meets goal with Nationwide nod
The Danica Patrick circus at Daytona International Speedway will continue with the IndyCar Series driver making her NASCAR debut in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race.
“To be the one driving that [GoDaddy.com] car at Daytona means a lot to me,” Patrick said Monday in a news release. “Racing in the Nationwide Series was my goal during this entire two-month preparation process, but we wanted to make sure it was the right thing to do.”
Patrick made the decision after finishing sixth in her ARCA debut Saturday at Daytona. She will be guaranteed a spot in the field using the points from CJM Racing’s No. 11 team that finished 15th in points last season.
ESPN.com reported Patrick’s decision Sunday.
“The ARCA race was a blast, and I’m not ready for my first Daytona Speedweeks to end just yet,” Patrick said. “I want more racing.”
Said co-owner Kelley Earnhardt: “Danica proved to everyone she can compete in stock cars at a high level, and right now seat time is extremely important. She has worked extremely hard during the past two months for this opportunity. Her dedication and work ethic is infectious.”
Crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who initially was against Patrick beginning her limited Nationwide schedule at Daytona, didn’t hesitate to give a yes vote after the ARCA event.
“Me and Rick [Hendrick] told her the first time we ever met her, that Daytona might not be the place you want to do it,” Eury said of starting her part-time Nationwide schedule. “It’s basically a [Sprint] Cup race. You don’t want to put her in a situation where she is going to fail. We told her to come down, run this race, get her feet wet and if you’re comfortable do it.
“I would love for her to come back and run next week.”
Sponsor GoDadddy.com also was for it, according to multiple sources.
Not everybody was, though. Several crew chiefs in the Sprint Cup garage said Patrick would be better off waiting until the second race at California to jump into Nationwide, pointing to the potential for disaster running nose-to-tail in large packs.
Despite her performance in the ARCA race, Patrick still hesitated to run close to the car ahead of hers, a necessity in restrictor plate racing to remain competitive.
“That’s the kind of thing that is going to take gradual time, to get used to bump drafting,” Eury said. “We just keep talking. This tonight is the most homework we can do.”
Patrick’s biggest reservation about Daytona was keeping JR Motorsports teammate Kelly Bires out of the event and perhaps costing a driver competing for the championship valuable points if she makes a mistake.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will enter a second JR Motorsports car and the cost of a third one, according to the co-owner of the organization, was prohibitive.
Patrick’s only major scare in the ARCA race came with less than 30 laps remaining when she lost control and spun through the tri-oval and through the grass. But she made a nice recovery and rallied from last to sixth.
“I couldn’t ask too much more,” Eury said. “She was put in a predicament, her and her spotter worked good together. I was very impressed those last 20 laps. I was, ‘All right, she’s getting it done now.’
“Are you going to run in the top five in a Nationwide race? You’re going to have to have a lot of luck. But I think she showed right there at the end she’s very capable of running in the draft.”