Natalie Decker, in her first attempt at Daytona, won the General Tire Pole for Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
The Eagle River, Wisconsin rookie qualified with a top speed of 181.859 mph in her No. 25 Venturini Motorsports-prepared N29 Capital Partners Toyota. Her top speed came from the fourth group among the six groups that qualified.
“This means so much to me to be here,” said Decker. “And to get the pole at Daytona is definitely the biggest moment of my career. I beat Johnny Sauter once at State Park Speedway, but this even beats that.”
Decker got some good help from veteran spotter Eddie D’Hondt.
“My goodness…it was crazy. My spotter talked the whole time. I told him to talk to me a lot. He told me to hold it on the yellow line and that’s what I did. He sent me a big long text last night and it helped so much. Thanks to Dave (Leiner/crew chief), Billy (Venturini), Toyota and everyone at Venturini Motorsports for walking me through this whole thing. Everyone has been so helpful.
“There’s been so much learning. Dave has helped me so much. I’m so thankful he’s my crew chief and to be running with Venturini Motorsports. They’ve helped me so much.”
Dave Leiner is slated to be Decker’s crew chief for the entire 2018 ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards season.
“Well I said last year, second or third race in…I said Natalie’s the real deal,” said Leiner. “I’ve worked with a lot of young drivers. Nat has what it takes to win here…to get to the next level. She’s got the drive, the talent and the backing. She gives good feedback, she listens well…she’s a joy to work with, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Decker did not participate in final practice prior to qualifying; instead spent time signing autographs at the quarter midget races staged in the infield at Daytona.
“I know all those girls running quarter midgets are watching. I signed a lot of autographs today…it was so much fun. I just want them to know that they can do this…they just need to keep pushing through.
“It’s been a wonderful, wonderful day. I’m so excited to be here. I know I’m going to get nervous when I climb in that car for the race; but I’m going to turn those nerves into drive and excitement once the race starts.”
MDM Motorsports drivers Zane Smith (No. 41 LaPaz Margarita Mix Toyota) and Chase Purdy (No. 8 BAMA Buggies Toyota) were second and third in qualifying. Mason Mitchell Motorsports’ Max Tullman (No. 78 Zoomi-Myota Chevrolet) was fourth. Decker’s Venturini Motorsports teammate Leilani Munter was fifth fastest in the No. 20 Vegan Strong Toyota.
Gus Dean (No. 32 GREE Cooling Products-Baker Distributing Chevrolet), Travis Braden (No. 27 MatrixCare-Consonus Healthcare-Liberty Village Ford), Riley Herbst (No. 18 NOS-ORCA Coolers-Terrible Herbst-Advance Auto Parts Toyota), Willie Mullins (No. 3 Crow Wing Recycling-CW Metals-Bugsy’s Auto Ford) and Tom Hessert (No. 55 U.S. Turf Equipment Toyota) completed the top-10, respectively.
Despite being nervous, Decker also said she has no hesitation when it comes to racing in a big pack at Daytona.
“No hesitation,” she said. “Danica (Patrick) has done such a good job of paving the way for all girl drivers. There are a lot of them coming up…and they’re all fast. I want to have a good showing tomorrow night for all of them, and I know I have the right team to do it with.”
Decker becomes the second female driver in history to win a pole for the ARCA race at Daytona; Erin Crocker won the pole in 2007.
The Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire is live on FS1 Saturday (Feb. 10) at 4:30 p.m. ET. Look for live timing, scoring, chat and live audio at arcaracing.com.