DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – JR Motorsports driver Danica Patrick survived the annual crash-fest known as the ARCA race at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night. But then she got swallowed up by the crowd in the ARCA garage.
Patrick got through the action on the track to finish sixth in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200, and then she made it through the media and fan swarm in the ARCA garage.
Patrick made a successful stock-car debut, bouncing back from losing the draft and a spin to charge to a top-10 finish.
"I think she done great," crew chief Tony Eury Jr. said. "We did what we wanted to do. For her first time being here, being able to draft like that, she had me pretty excited there at the end. She went to the high side trying to make something happen and she drove up to fifth, so that’s got to be pretty impressive."
Patrick started 12th and stayed in the lead draft for the first half of the race amid numerous cautions for spins and multi-car crashes.
"It was good at the beginning," Patrick said. "We were just hanging out. There were lots of yellows. The car just started to seem like it was sliding around a bit. It seemed like I got bumped in 1 and 2 and then I kind of slid up the track, and I was a little loose in the kink anyway. … I just couldn’t hang, and I went up the track, and then I just got shuffled back."
Patrick was running sixth when the No. 7 Chevrolet wiggled off Turn 2, and she lost several positions as the low line went by her. Scrambling to stay in the lead draft, Patrick darted inside Nelson Piquet Jr. coming off Turn 4, but Piquet didn’t see her and bounced Patrick to the inside grass.
"I was trying like heck to get back in, and once I got back in, I was trying to take a run that we all had down to the inside," Patrick said. "They say that you can’t cross over the yellow line to improve your position, but everyone was slowing down, so I just followed the one ahead of me, but the guy came down over the front of me. I just held to the yellow line – I took myself out, unfortunately."
Patrick’s car slid through the grass and back up the banking, but she kept it off the wall.
"That was awesome," Eury Jr. said. "That’s how you tell if you’ve got a real race car driver right there, when they start spinning out and saving them. Jimmie Johnson’s proved that over the years.
"She was pretty calm. It was just a matter of getting her slowed down so she didn’t explode a tire and blow the fenders off. She took it real calm."
Patrick said she released the steering wheel during her long slide.
"Shoot, to be honest, I thought when I spun down the front straight, I took my hands off the wheel for a second," Patrick said. "I was like, ‘I’m going to get majorly collected right here.’ But nobody was there. Then Tony Jr. was in my ear, saying, ‘Get back in it.’ So I got back in it and hit the throttle and kind of mildly straightened it back out again."
The team spent several pit stops trying to get the nose fixed, and Patrick restarted 24th. But with fresh tires, Patrick deftly worked her way through the pack to run in the top five.
"Then I thought, ‘Shoot, we’re not out of this, right? Why would be out of it?’" Patrick said. "The guys did a good job working in the pits getting it right so the tires didn’t blow out from something rubbing. I was pretty excited to go from last back to the top five.
"Then I jumped up high, and I was like, ‘Whatever. There’s eight to go. Who cares? Let’s see who’s coming with me.’ The car felt pretty good, so that was really fun."