Tue04152014

Last updateTue, 04 Nov 2014 9pm

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Danica Patrick takes first laps around Daytona in a stock car

Make way for the lady; it’s an equal opportunity world.  Since 1950 when Ann Slaasted and Ann Bunselmeyer each entered one Grand National race, 27 women have driven in NASCAR’s top two series. Most, like Slaasted and Bunselmeyer, have been one-time entries or, at best, they entered just a few races with modest efforts and mostly locally promoted efforts to help boost the box office at a particular event.  Only a small handful of women have driven in more than a few races, or have attained any measurable success.

The most successful was Janet Guthrie who drove in 33 events in what is now the Sprint Cup Series from 1976-1980, logging five top 10 finishes. Shawna Robinson drove in eight events in 2001-2002 and never did crack the top 10.  On the Nationwide circuit, Patty Moise entered 133 events between 1986 and 1998. Moise finished in the top 10 four times.  Shawna Robinson entered 61 races between 1991 and 2005, and logged one top 10 finish.  Erin Crocker, now Mrs. Ray Everham, had 10 Nationwide Series starts, without any notable success.  

None of theses ladies came to NASCAR with the hype, sponsorship or top-flight equipment of Danica Patrick, who will make her stock car debut in the ARCA race at Daytona in February.  Her first Nationwide race is scheduled to be at Auto Club Speedway in California on Feb. 21.  

Patrick turned her first laps in a stock car last Friday at Daytona International Speedway, the first day of a three-day test for the ARCA Racing Series in preparation for the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 on Saturday, Feb. 6.

Patrick, behind the wheel of the No. 88 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, turned only four laps in Friday’s 35-minute session that was cut short due to rain showers.  She was 12th on the speed chart with a lap of 176.142 mph. Mikey Kile in a Venturini Motorsports Toyota turned the fastest lap at 180.708 mph.  Incidentally, Brandon McReynolds, son of Larry McReynolds, Fox TV race analyst and former crew chief, was fourth fastest at 178.204.

“It’s definitely by far the biggest track that I have been on in a stock car since I’ve only ever been on a mile before,” Patrick said. “It was a big difference. The car moves around quite a bit. The car was definitely getting some action in the rear over the bumps. It was getting a little bit loose, but I kept my foot in it and tried not chasing it too much with the steering.”

Patrick will make her stock car debut at NASCAR’s most storied track, Daytona International Speedway in the season opening Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 and will use the 80 lap, 200 mile race to prepare for her partial Nationwide Series schedule with JR Motorsports.  While it was only one run, Patrick was happy to finally get on Daytona’s high banks.

“I was glad to get out there,” Patrick said after Friday’s session.  “It would have been nice to do a few runs and actually make a change or two on the car and feel things out.  I’m definitely glad to have gotten that run.  We will go from here.  I’m happy with it and we’re ready to build on that.”

Friday’s ARCA testing wasn’t Patrick’s first laps around Daytona.  She has turned laps around the road course in both the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series and during an IndyCar Series test in 2007.  But being in a stock car on Friday did have its noticeable changes.

“I felt most disoriented with how the heck am I supposed to get my stuff on because I can’t get into the car with all that stuff on,” Patrick said.  “I got to buckle my belts and I can’t do it with my helmet on.  So I get in the car and I’ve got to tuck my hair down the back of my suit and I can’t do it because I’m strapped in.  I’m just awfully confused. So I decided that I need to put everything on but my helmet and then get in the car.  It sounds awfully silly, but its logistics and logistics that I’m not used to.”
 

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