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Fans Give Danica A Warm NASCAR Welcome

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 27 2011

Danica Patrick seems to have fan support in her move to NASCAR.

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Based on a sampling of fans outside of Bristol Motor Speedway Friday morning, NASCAR Nation has embraced Danica Patrick’s decision to move to NASCAR on a full-time basis next season.

Art Potter of Grove Port, Ohio was one of a handful of autograph seekers standing next to the fence which surrounds the luxurious motorcoaches that NASCAR drivers call home each weekend.

Potter, decked out in a Jeff Gordon hat and t-shirt, was hoping to catch a glimpse of his favorite driver as the Sprint Cup competitors slowly made their way out of the motorcoach lot and into the high-banked oval for the start of practice at noon.

Instead, Potter had to settle for an autograph from Steven Wallace, who had just participated in Friday morning’s Nationwide Series two-hour happy hour.

Potter said he’s eager to see Patrick become a regular fixture at NASCAR venues.

“I think it’s great,” he said of Thursday’s announcement. “I think she deserves a chance just like any other driver out there. She’s got the talent. We’ve seen it in open wheel.

“Do I think she can make it in NASCAR? Definitely.”

Nick Pickett and his wife Darla Pickett will spend the weekend at Thunder Valley after making the drive to Bristol from their home in Vanceburg, Ky.

The couple shared similar thoughts on the latest female hoping to make a splash in stock car racing.

“I’m excited about Danica coming to NASCAR for obvious reasons,” said Darla Pickett, whose wry smile made it clear she believes it’s time for a woman to enjoy success in the sport. “This just brings a little more excitement and change. But in my book, she’s still got to earn her keep when after she gets here.”

Though Patrick has been criticized during the past two seasons for jumping back-and-forth between Indy Cars and the Nationwide Series, Nick Pickett believes the strategy will pay off in the long run.

“The good thing is she has come in gradually instead of just jumping in like a lot of the open wheel drivers that jumped right into the sport,” he said. For that reason, I think she’s trying to earn her stay.”

Patrick announced her 2012 racing plans in a press conference that aired live on ESPN.

After word began leaking last week that Patrick was ready to embark on a full-time career in NASCAR, the rumors generated lots of headlines throughout the sporting world.

Potter believes all of the coverage was justified.

“No, I don’t think there’s been too much hype over her decision,” Potter said. “She’s out there to promote herself. She’s just like any other driver. It’s no different than Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon or any of them.”

Patrick is scheduled to run a full-time schedule in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports and a partial Cup schedule for Stewart Haas Racing in 2012. Her Cup debut will likely occur in the season-opening Daytona 500.

That’s just fine with Nick Pickett, who sees no reason for Patrick to fly under the radar and make her debut in NASCAR’s top series in a lesser known event.

“I would say Daytona is not too big of a stage for her,” he said. “Danica has been in the Indy 500, so she’s used to big stages.”

NASCAR fan Jerry Creighton of Dunmoor, Ky. echoed Pickett’s thoughts.

“Remember, Danica almost won the Nationwide race in Daytona in July,” he said. “She can handle that track.”

Jerry Creighton’s wife, Wendy Creighton, said she welcomes Patrick to the sport. And while she’s ok with the publicity for now, she hopes the fans and media will perceive her as another face in the crowd next season.

“I think all of this is great,” she said. “Everyone is emphasizing her being a woman right now. But what difference does it make?

“I think over the long haul she should be treated as another driver.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 27 2011
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