Danica meets goal with Nationwide nod
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The Danica Patrick circus at Daytona International Speedway will continue as the IndyCar Series driver makes 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 stock car debut at the ARCA race Saturday at Daytona. She will be guaranteed a spot in the field using the points from CJM Racing's No. 11 team, which finished 15th in points last season.
ESPN.com reported Patrick's decision Sunday.
Nationwide is the Triple-A minor league of NASCAR, which features the Sprint Cup Series as its highest level of racing. The ARCA race is at Daytona each year but is not a NASCAR event.
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"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's beginning her limited Nationwide schedule at Daytona, didn't hesitate to give a yes vote after the ARCA event on Saturday.
"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.''
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 [ARCA race] 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.
There's been slight backlash against Patrick for taking the Daytona ride because many believed her decision to race cost Bires a seat.
"As everyone can see, I will not be running Daytona. Very bummed out about it!" he posted on his Twitter account.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will enter a second JR Motorsports car. Due to a sponsorship agreement, Earnhardt Jr. is contractually obligated to race in Daytona's Nationwide event -- so, in fact, he replaced Bires for this one event. The second JR Motorsports car (the No. 7) is Patrick's, and Earnhardt said Bires would have gotten that seat only if Patrick had elected not to race.
There was brief discussion about taking three cars to Daytona so Bires could race, but Earnhardt said the sponsorship woes JR Motorsports is facing made the extra car unaffordable.
"I think it would have been different if we had sponsorship for the 88 for the whole season, but at this moment we only have 12 races out of 35 with [sponsorship] contracts in hand," Earnhardt said. "We are looking to run the balance of the season on our own dime for Kelly, and we just couldn't make that expense to bring a third car.
"If Danica had decided not to race, then Kelly would have been the first choice to go in that car."
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 onto the grass. But she recovered 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.''
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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