If you didn't know the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona International Speedway was Danica Patrick's first stock car race, her first question after rolling across the finish line in sixth place was a dead giveaway.
"Where should I go?" Patrick asked, after Bobby Gerhart took the chequered flag for his sixth ARCA Series win at Daytona.
At the end of an adventuresome 80-lap race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, Patrick found her way to the garage. Between the green flag and the chequered flag, Patrick had slid through the grass and spun after contact from Nelson Piquet Jr. on lap 54, restarted 24th and ultimately recovered to run as high as fifth before the finish.
"That was fun - that was a good time," Patrick radioed to crew chief Tony Eury Jr. "I definitely learned a lot. But I felt what it was like to have the tyres go off. That was a handful."
With an adroit save after the contact from Piquet and her charge through the field in the final 17 laps, Patrick earned high praise from her JR Motorsports team.
"You drove the wheels off that thing, girl," radioed co-owner Rick Hendrick. "We're proud of you."
After climbing from her car, Patrick looked at the battle scars on her #7 Chevrolet.
"I was pretty excited to go from last back to the top five again," she said. "It was really fun. I was going side-by-side with people. The GoDaddy car doesn't look very pretty, but it was fun."
Gerhart, who pitted early for fuel, took the lead by staying on the track for a lap 30 restart and held the top spot the rest of the way. Mark Thompson ran second, followed by John Wes Townley, James Buescher and Patrick Sheltra.
Though his win was overshadowed by Patrick's debut, Gerhart was thankful for the attention the IndyCar star brought to the series.
"I'm glad she was here," Gerhart said. "It brought some much-needed attention to the series. I actually welcome the opportunity to have a national platform."
In the days leading up to the race, Gerhart hadn't been swept up in Danica mania.
"I didn't see her or talk to her all week," he said. "How about that? But I did notice this extremely large group of media outside her trailer near mine - I thought they were coming to see me."
Patrick is expected to announce Monday whether she will compete in next Saturday's Drive4COPD 300 Nationwide Series race at Daytona.
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News