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Patrick, ARCA winner like 6

DAYTONA BEACH — Bobby Gerhart held another trophy.

Danica Patrick held her own.

Gerhart's record sixth ARCA victory at Daytona International Speedway was overshadowed by the successful stock car debut of the IndyCar star, who rallied from a midrace spin to finish sixth Saturday in the crash-filled Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200.

"It was a lot of fun," Patrick said. "I bumped from the side. I bumped from the front. I got bumped from the back. I learned a lot, and I had so much fun in a race car (Saturday). So I can't wait to do it again."

Patrick's first foray into stock cars was widely anticipated, and she didn't disappoint.

After spending much of the race in the top 10, she bumped fenders with another driver who first made a name in open-wheel racing — Nelson Piquet Jr., who came from Formula One — and spun through the infield grass on Lap 54. That cost her any realistic hopes to win, but she charged through the field in the closing laps, getting as high as fifth with three laps left.

It impressed Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s sister Kelley, who was instrumental in putting together the deal that brought Patrick to the family's JR Motorsports team.

"I think she showed us she was able to drive," Kelley Earnhardt said. "One time I saw her up on the high side, she pulled down low. I kept thinking, 'Come on, let's pull off an Earnhardt. Pass 18 cars in three laps and win this thing.' "

But she didn't have enough to catch Gerhart, who has won the ARCA opener six out of 12 years. Mark Thompson was second, followed by John Wes Townley.

Gerhart, who said he hadn't met Patrick, understood his name probably wouldn't end up in the headlines.

"Overshadowed by what? Did I miss something?" Gerhart deadpanned. "I'm glad she was here, really. It brought some very, very well-needed attention to this series."

Patrick will race a partial schedule in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide series this season. She has not yet decided if she will compete in Saturday's Nationwide opener at Daytona.

IN THE FIELD: Two-time Daytona 500 champion Bill Elliott, Scott Speed and Lakeland's Joe Nemechek locked up spots for the Sprint Cup season opener on Feb. 14.

Bobby Labonte is in as well; even if he doesn't race his way in during Thursday's 150-mile races, he will get a past series champions provisional. Four others outside the top 35 in 2009 points will earn spots on Thursday.

Patrick, ARCA winner like 6 02/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 6, 2010 10:15pm]
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