Danica Patrick impressed on her stock car debut, finishing sixth in an incident-packed ARCA RE/MAX Series race at Daytona. The IndyCar star recovered from contact with Nelson Piquet Jr. late in the race and ran as high as fifth before running out of drafting partners to move farther up the order.
"The car felt pretty good, so that was really fun," Patrick said. "I was going side by side with people and the Go-Daddy car doesn't look very pretty but it was fun."
Patrick ran conservatively in the first half of the race, which saw many cautions come out due to multi-car incidents. She later struggled with the balance of her car but following her first pit stop and thanks to some quick work from her crew, she emerged second out of pit lane, which translated to sixth on the road as strategies came into play.
"Well, you know it was good at the beginning when I was kind of hanging out," said Patrick. "There were lots of yellows obviously and then the car started to seem like it was sliding around a bit more and it felt to me like I got bumped in [Turns] One and Two. Then I kind of slid up the track and I was a little loose in the kink, anyway, which probably could have been from bumping from behind, too, but I just couldn't hang on and I went up the track a little and I just got shuffled back and was trying to get back in."
Her race almost came to an early end when she got hit by Piquet while trying to pass him on the inside along the front stretch as they battled among the top 15. The Brazilian squeezed Patrick toward the inside yellow line, Patrick went sideways through the grass but managed to avoid hitting the wall.
"I was trying to get a run that I had on the inside, and they say that you can't cross over the yellow line to improve your position but everyone was slowing down and I was following the one ahead of me," Patrick explained. "The guy came down over the front of me and I just held to the yellow line. I took myself out, unfortunately, but you can't go over the yellow line."
She pitted twice to change tires and get repairs to her car before rejoining down in 24th as one of the last cars on the lead lap. From there she quickly recovered, running as high as fifth. With a handful of laps remaining, she broke the single-file at the front but, without much help, she dropped a few spots.
On the last lap, she battled for sixth place with multiple Supercross champion and Camping World Truck Series racer Ricky Carmichael, banging fenders before beating him to the flag.
"I thought, 'Shoot, we're now out of this race,' why would we be out of it?" said Patrick. "The guys did a good job at doing work in the pits and getting that right so the tires didn't blow up from something rubbing.
"I was pretty excited to go from last to back to the top five again, and 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.'"
Piquet, who was also making his stock car debut, found himself on the receiving end of an incident similar to the one he had with Patrick later in the race and was classified 27th. Patrick's fellow IndyCar veteran Milka Duno was involved in a multi-car crash that brought her day to an early end.
JR Motorsports officials are expected to announce shortly whether Patrick will enter the Nationwide Series season opener at Daytona next weekend.