Not a bad start for Danica Patrick

by Monte Dutton

Not a bad start for Danica Patrick

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Danica Patrick, the only woman ever to win an Indy-car race, made a successful debut in stock cars by finishing sixth in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200, an Automobile Racing Club of America race at Daytona International Speedway run on Feb. 6.

The event, won for the sixth time by Pennsylvania driver Bobby Gerhart, provided Patrick with needed experience in the Daytona draft.

“It’s a little harder than I thought it would be, but I felt really good,” she said. “I worked on closing that distance by Monte Dutton between two car lengths and being right on them at a half a car length because, with my Indy-car experience, I thought two car lengths was on them but it’s not, which is understandable why the accidents are so big because you have nowhere to go because you are literally nose to tail.

“I think that, for a long, long time to come, it will be something that you get better and better at,” said Patrick, who will turn 28 on March 25.

“A lot of these drivers are new to me. I don’t know a lot of them,” she said. “There are a lot of nice guys out there, and its nice to be around some good drivers.”

A native of Roscoe, Ill., and resident of Phoenix, Ariz., Patrick drives for JR Motorsports, which is aligned with Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR’s premier team. Tony Eury Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s first cousin and former crew chief, is helping her learn the ropes in stock-car racing.

“He’s a very good crew chief,” she said. “In IndyCar, our engineers are crew chiefs. I’m lucky to have great engineer-crew chiefs in both places. Tony’s very talented…. He knows what he’s doing. I tell him what the car is doing and he fixes it.

“For me, it’s a matter of learning from him and understanding about the car. The difference between Indy car and NASCAR is, a lot of things are spoken in opposites, so it’s been a little bit confusing to me, but I’m getting familiar. I’m getting into the car setup side as much as I can. It’s hard to digest it all at once, but it will take a while.”

Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week ( features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at (c) 2010 King Features Syndicate

IRL driver Danica Patrick made a successful start in stock-car racing at the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 ARCA race on Feb. 6 at Daytona. That’s Tony Eury Jr. on the left. (John Clark/NASCAR This Week photo)