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NASCAR roundup: Gerhart triumphs; Patrick is 6th

Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick
Dave Martin, Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bobby Gerhart held yet 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 spinout to finish sixth Saturday in the crash-filled race.

"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 today. So I can't wait to do it again."

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

After spending much of the race among the top 10, she bumped fenders with Nelson Piquet Jr. and spun out through the infield grass on lap 54, costing her any realistic hopes of a victory. 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 up 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 season opener six of the last 12 years.

BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT: Kevin Harvick overcame a bout with the flu and a wrecked race car to earn his second consecutive victory in the exhibition Budweiser Shootout on Saturday night.

Too ill to travel to Daytona International Speedway for the opening of Speedweeks, Harvick turned his Chevrolet over to Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer for the first practice of the season.

But Bowyer was caught in an early accident that destroyed the No. 29 and forced the team to pull out its backup.

Jeff Burton practiced that car for Harvick, who was in Daytona and feeling well enough to drive in the race.

Although he led late, a caution for Michael Waltrip's wreck with five laps remaining muddled what was shaping up to be a sure win. Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne stayed on the track during the caution, and Harvick led most of the 24-car field onto pit road.

He was in fourth when the race restarted with two laps to go, but quickly pulled out of line to dive underneath Biffle and claim the lead. He was pulling away when Jeff Gordon rammed into the back of Biffle, triggering an eight-car accident behind the leader.

NASCAR waited several moments before calling caution, presumably to see if the wreckage cleared and the race could end under green. Instead, Harvick passed under the yellow flag and won under caution.

DAYTONA QUALIFYING: Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent the last month talking about how those in-house, offseason moves would make a difference.

On Saturday, they may have convinced everyone else.

Martin and Earnhardt posted the top qualifying runs and secured the front row for next week's Daytona 500. It might not mean as much as Hendrick Motorsports' 1-2-3 finish in last season's Sprint Cup standings, but the latest sweep provided some validation to those changes made in hopes of bolstering both teams and getting crew chiefs Alan Gustafson (Martin) and Lance McGrew (Earnhardt) on the same page.

"The challenge was we wanted one team with two cars," Hendrick said. "Then they unloaded two cars that ran almost identical times. I know this is just one race, but no one here and no one outside of our company will know the effort that Alan and Lance put into this team and these two cars, and I'm really proud of 'em."

Martin, the only driver to top 191 mph, earned his first Daytona 500 pole. At 51, he also became the oldest driver to earn the top spot for NASCAR's premier race.