It was a magical week for 20-year old rookie driver Natalie Decker who started on the pole position and finished a career best 5th in last weekend’s ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards season opener at Daytona International Speedway.
“I don’t know what to say – I’m just so happy right now,” said Decker. “My first time at Daytona and I sat on the pole and finished fifth. It’s amazing. I think It’s going to take a few days for all of it to sink in. What a great way to start the season and none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for the support I continue to receive from N29 Capital Partners, Venturini Motorsports, Toyota and of course my fans.”
Decker, performing on racing’s biggest stage, added her name to the record books becoming just the third woman in ARCA’s history and fourth in Daytona’s 59-year track history to start a race from the pole position. Decker joins Patty Moise and Erin Crocker as the only female General Tire pole winners at Daytona.
The Eagle River, WI native driving Venturini Motorsports’ flagship No.25 N29 Capital Partners – Yamaha Power Products Toyota Camry also picked up the series’ SCOTT Brand rookie of the race honors as top finishing rookie driver of the race.
“That was a crazy race – that’s all I can say,” added Decker. “I made a few mistakes but fortunately got away with them I learned a bunch. Honestly, Dave Leiner (Crew Chief) and Eddie D’Hondt (Spotter) deserve a lot of credit. They kept me calm and really helped me out there today. There’s no place quite like Daytona – it’s a total team effort.”
After leading the field to the green flag Decker gave up the lead and settled inside the top-3, running up front during the early stages around Daytona’s intimidating 2.5-mile superspeedway. Staying in the lead pack early Decker fell back to the 24th position after pitting twice during the midway point of the race.
Driving her way back up through the field Decker avoided the “big one” by impressively maneuvering her N29 Capital Partners Toyota through several wrecks to maintain her chances. Finding herself 10th after the first of two red flag stoppages Decker put herself in contention for the race win restarting fourth on the final restart with one lap remaining, but was unable to find the advantage.
Decker finished fifth behind race winner and teammate Michael Self and fourth-place finisher Tom Hessert. Leilani Munter, Decker’s fourth VMS teammate and the only other female driver in the field finished eighth.
Decker and Munter’s Daytona finishes marked the first time in ARCA Racing Series history that two female drivers finished in the top-10 at Daytona in the same race.
Participating in the full ARCA schedule with Venturini Motorsports, Decker will continue her pursuit of Rookie of the Year and Championship dreams next in the Music City 200 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville on April 7.