The Hot Pass: Danica impacts other female racing pioneers

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While the rain has deterred most drivers in the ARCA Series garage, Alli Owens observes the final changes her crew makes to the metallic pink No. 15 Chevrolet.

The Daytona Beach native is more than just a bystander. Owens has worked on cars since she was 12. She's been extremely conscious of every detail and every adjustment that has been made to the car over the last 24 hours.

"I want to know what they're doing," Owens said. "That's been my focus since we unloaded. I had to know how to work on cars so I could race."

For Owens, her focus has paid off. In last year's ARCA race, Owens qualified second and was running sixth on Lap 30 when Eddie Mercer took Owens out of the race. Her 40th-place finish in the Eddie D'Hondt-prepared car was not indicative of her potential.

Owens hopes to change that in Saturday's Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200. Last fall she received a call from Bill Venturini - a fixture in the ARCA garage for the last 25 years. Owens describes the experience as "just an amazing opportunity" to work with the team.

But the economy has been tough on budgets, Owens' included. And although her deal isn't fully sponsored, she's hoping the Danica Factor will change that.

"If everybody had a budget like Danica," Owens said, "we'd be all set. But when she puts on her helmet tomorrow, she'll be just another driver on the race track."

While other females have come and gone in ARCA, six women - triple the total of the last two Daytona races -- attempted to make the field for Saturday's race - including Patrick and Owens, who qualified 12th and 19th, respectively. But this year is different. The exposure that the ARCA series has received since Patrick decided to test in December has rocketed.

Owens doesn't have to look far from her garage bay to see the posse that follows Patrick through the garage or the media that camp outside the newcomer's transporter. But Patrick's arrival has residual rewards for Owens and the other women in the garage. Owens admits more people approach her to say "how much they respect what (she's) doing in the car."

And Owens has tried to put herself "in Danica's shoes." She realizes the pressure that is on the 27-year-old Patrick to succeed. But there's also a lot hanging in the balance for the other female hopefuls that don't have Patrick's marketing machine behind them who are desperately looking for that one female that can finally break down the barriers and open more doors.

"Danica needs to understand the responsibility she has when she comes over here because there's a lot more weight she is carrying that the outside people don't know about," Owens said. "For people like myself and other girls who run stock cars who are trying to come up the stock car level it's a tough world out there - stock car (racing) is based out of running moonshine, it's not like you are going to have people accept that the fact that there are females. At the local level, they are still struggling with that.

"This is my dream come true. This is what I've lived for my entire life and worked for. With Danica coming over here, I hope she doesn't see it just as an opportunity cause she can and then try to make it work because there's a lot of girls out there that are running late models, are trying to put something together for ARCA that need her to succeed and want this because there hasn't been anybody that's done it."

Eury helping Danica past racing landmines

After all the hype, humility will be the lesson Danica Patrick learns at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday.

After Danica teased the public with her stock car aspirations - although not as provocatively as her alter ego - the plans came together with JR Motorsports on December 7th. Tony Eury Jr., took the reins and set up an aggressive testing schedule at Daytona, Disney World and the Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., prior to Thursday's first laps of practice.

Despite solid equipment, Patrick was slow to get up to speed at Daytona. But when it came time to put a lap down for qualifying, Patrick was 12th fast in time trials. Still, unlike the Indy Car fields in the low 20s, Patrick will compete against 43 racers on Saturday.

But she's comfortable with her surroundings.

"A lot of these drivers are new to me as I don't know a lot of them," Patrick said. "But just in the experience that I've had in practice and getting to know them a little bit, getting familiar with their driving and speed at least if I haven't met them, there's a lot of nice guys out there. It's nice to be around some good drivers. Tony was pointing out, 'he's good, he's good, he's going to play good. Be careful here, be careful there,' but as he said, 'you're in a good group.'

"That's good. The last thing you want to do is be put into a situation where you got to watch on the start when you've got eight laps to go. I think I'm in a good spot. We'll hit the gas and keep our foot on it as long as we can."

Patrick admits that she's "out to make friends out there unless someone gives me a reason not to like them." Her greatest support will obviously come from Eury. He's already provided Patrick with a crash course in stock cars over the last two months and last week ordered a simulation kit for his driver to log laps on line to accelerate her learning curve. Patrick is aware that her greatest benefit to mastering stock cars will be time.

"Tony Eury Jr. is a very good crew chief, he's very talented," Patrick said. "He knows what he's doing. I tell him what the car is doing and he fixes it. We worked very hard on the car (Thursday). We actually tried quite a few things. We needed the time to improve the car and we did that and that's been the case just about every place we've went.

"For me it's a matter of learning from him and understanding the car. The difference between IndyCar and NASCAR is a lot of things are spoken in opposites, so that's been a little bit confusing for me but I'm getting into the car set up part of it as much as I can. It's hard to digest it all at once. Just like in IndyCar, it will take a while."

And it wasn't until viewing race footage during the four rookie meetings, that Patrick realized what "a crash fest" the Daytona ARCA race can be.

"I didn't know that," Patrick said. Now I do, so I think that makes me realize I need to be smart out there."

But Eury Jr. will be there to remind her. Although the practice was cut short due to rain, Eury believes Patrick is ready for the challenge. On Saturday, he'll "walk out of the tunnel with a smile if she finishes in the top five" even though he would settle for a top 15 result.

"I know the hype," Eury said. "But I have 15 races to teach her everything I know. And if she's the first woman to win a race over here I will have had the opportunity to do something that no one else has done."