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Patrick’s Team Ready to Roll for NASCAR Debut

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Danica Patrick will decide today whether she'll start her first NASCAR race Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. After she placed an impressive sixth in her stock car debut, her JR Motorsports team seems to have made up its mind.

"I think she can do it," crew chief Tony Eury Jr. said after Saturday's Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 ARCA race. "We're ready to go."

Patrick certainly exhibited plenty of moxie and ability Saturday in the often finicky draft of a restrictor-plate event, in which underpowered cars often run inches apart in tight packs because of horsepower-robbing plates on the carburetors that restrict airflow to the engine and reduce speeds.

Patrick started 12th and hung around the top 10 until lap 54, when she made contact with Nelson Piquet Jr. off Turn 4. After skidding through the grass, Patrick's car made a half spin up the track, but she caught it before it hit the wall. After a pit stop to repair minor damage, her No. 7 Chevrolet returned in 23rd and she rallied in the last 20 laps.

"I got bumped from the side, the front, the back, and I learned a lot," she said. "I had so much fun. I can't wait to do it again."

Kelley Earnhardt, who co-owns JRM with Eury and her younger brother Dale Jr., was "ecstatic" with Patrick's performance, so much so that she recalled her late father's famous charge from 18th to first in the final five laps at Talladega Superspeedway. That October 2000 win was Dale Earnhardt's last. "She did a fantastic job," Kelley Earnhardt said. "I kept thinking, 'C'mon, let's pull off an Earnhardt and pass 18 cars in three laps and win this thing,' you know?"

Earnhardt is "50-50" on whether she wants Patrick to delay her NASCAR debut until Feb. 20 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. "It's totally her decision," Earnhardt said.

Opening statement: Kevin Harvick rebounded from flu-like symptoms, which sidelined him from taking practice laps Friday, to win the Budweiser Shootout. Harvick passed Greg Biffle on a restart with two laps to go and won the exhibition event for the second consecutive season.

The win marked the Richard Childress Racing driver's first trip to victory lane since the 2009 Shootout. Harvick finished 19th in the standings in 2009, which included a late-season reshuffling that paired him with crew chief Gil Martin.

"It gives you a little swagger that everybody knows they can win," said Harvick, who's in the final year of his RCR contract. "We got beat down a little bit in the middle last year."

Bonus coverage: Even Bobby Gerhart didn't seem to mind that his record sixth ARCA win at Daytona was overshadowed by Patrick's debut.

"Overshadowed by what?" Gerhart joked. "I'm glad she was here, really. It brought some well-needed attention. When someone talks about the series now, they're not going to say, 'What?' "

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