Saturday, February 6, 2010

Bobby Gerhart wins Daytona ARCA race; Danica Patrick finishes 6th in debut

An annual event for Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway since 1964, the 200 mile race for the ARCA Racing Series presented by REMAX and Menards has been known to be a race fostering greats in NASCAR talent.

As preparations started for the 2010 ARCA Lucas Oil Stick Mist 200 race on Saturday morning, the focus for the event was placed heavily on a single stock car rookie. Of course, that rookie was IndyCar star Danica Patrick making her first ever competitive stock car outing at Daytona International Speedway. At last, the build up and media hype of Patrick's entrance in stock car racing could end, being replaced instead with hard race results.

Starting with NASCAR prospect James Buescher starting on pole with a #51 Toyota, the Lucas Oil Stick Mist 200 was guaranteed not to be a caution-free event. At lap 8, former ARCA champion Bill Baird lost control of his #52 Chevrolet sliding in turn 2 collecting an unsuspecting Steve Blackburn. As two cars tangled, several cars went past the duo at full speed collecting 10 cars overall.

During the first caution, the #5 Lucas Oil Chevrolet of Bobby Gerhart made several pit stops to address the car's performance in drafting. Gerhart's car was topped up on fuel. As the race progressed, this move proved itself as a defining factor in the race's final laps.

With the inexperience of the various drivers likely contributing to the involvement of 8 of those vehicles, this was far from the end of the stock car carnage. On the restart on lap 18, Dakoda Armstrong running near the near, suffered a flat tire and tried to slow down. Unfortunately, his position in front the field's fastest cars did not give the #22 Dodge a chance to pull out the track. Trying to maintain the pace to not collect the drivers behind him, he spun in front of Jon Wes Towney and Danica Patrick. While Towney and Patrick were able to zip by, the #81 Toyota of Craig Goess was not so lucky pounding into the #22 Dodge.

On lap 27, the #29 car driven by Jesse Smith cut a tire sending the vehicle into the turn 4 SAFER wall. Smith's incident would indirectly spark one of the more scariest accidents of the day when the #48 Dodge of Jill George slowed down in avoidance to Smith's damaged vehicle. Slipping low onto the apron, George's #48 car violently flipped onto its side and launched heavily into the outside wall of turn 4. Stripping the front of her #48 stock car, driver Jill George thankfully walked away from the totaled race car.

By mid-point of the Daytona ARCA race, the Lucas Oil Stick Mist 200 bred the normally high number of cautions produced by a fair share of wrecked race cars. In all, 14 ARCA stock cars would not go on to finish the event.

Within the last 25 laps the #5 Lucas Oil Chevrolet of Bobby Gerhart, the same car which early in the race spent extended time on pit road, was leading the #66 of Mark Thompson as well as the reduced pack of contenders.

Danica Patrick got loose in the draft and slid to the back of the lead draft pack position of 11th place. In only a handful of laps to go, Patrick and Nelson Piquet Jr were 2 of the 3 drivers involved in a three-wide battle out of turn 4. Running along the lower line, Piquet's Toyota chopped down on Patrick's #7 Chevy tapping her car. Sent spinning through the frontstretch, Patrick demonstrated some masterful driving recovering from loss of control.

With a record 6 female drivers starting in the ARCA Daytona opener, some of them were parked into the early stages of the event, including Milka Duno and Leilani Munter. Patrick wasn't the only woman demonstrating front-runner prowess. Ali Owens, driving a #15 Chevrolet sponsored by, was running a strong third place as the fight for positions heated up in the late laps.

The final caution was brought out when Barry Fitzgerald #06 veers left off of turn 2. The turbulence on the side of the #06 was enough to send the Ford over onto its roof sliding down the infield along Daytona's Superstretch. The last caution, Fitzgerald's car would not be the last victim of the 200 mile race. After a charging Patrick Seltra shuffled Ali Owens to the back with a fine exercise of restrictor plate racing, Owen's was behind a slower car when his engine blew with 3 laps to go. Owens spun in avoidance put an end to what could have been a solid lead lap finish.

At the end, the #5 Chevrolet of Gerhart holds off the #66 of Thompson to win his 6th 200-mile ARCA race at Daytona International Speedway.

Driving towards the checkered flag in a side-by-side, fender-rubbing match with Ricky Carmichael, Danica Patrick completed her stock car debut with a formidable 6th place finish in the JR Motorsports car.

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