By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Sometimes survival is the name of the game in motorsports, as Natalie Decker found out at Daytona International Speedway. After earning her first career pole position, Decker survived multiple incidents to score her first career top-five finish, fifth-place, in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards.
Despite damage to the left front of her No. 25 N29 Capital Partners Toyota Camry, Decker managed stay inside the top-five in the final one-lap shootout. With much of the field in the Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire having damage, there was nothing she could do to compete with her Venturini Motorsports teammate, and race winner, Michael Self.
The fender damage came from a botched restart with nearly 20 laps to go. Decker drove into the rear of the car ahead when Leilani Münter, another Venturini teammate, spun the tires. Her left front fender peeled backward, dragging against the asphalt. Decker quickly lost the draft, but was saved by another caution. While under caution, she quickly brought her car to her pit crew for repairs.
What ultimately put Decker in position to score a top-five finish was an accident on the second attempt at a green-flag finish. The four leaders made contact creating chaos behind them. In the debris and smoke, Decker was one of the few drivers that slowed while others took evasive action. Brad Smith attempted to swing by the carnage, side-swiping Decker. That sent Smith spinning down the track into several cars, ending their night. Decker meanwhile, held on until the exit of turn four before spinning onto the apron.
In a moment that was caught on the in-car camera of Decker’s Toyota Camry, Decker narrowly avoided disaster. Contact sent Daniel Sasnett head-on into the outside wall in the Tri-Oval. Decker had nowhere to go, but sliced between cars on the inside and Sasnett’s destroyed No. 33 Chevrolet SS.
The fifth-place finish, combined with bonus points from her pole position leave Decker tied for fourth in the Championship Points standings with another teammate, Tom Hessert III. She is 30-points behind Self, who is not competing full-time, and 15-points behind Sheldon Creed.
Now Decker and her Venturini Motorsports team will have plenty of time to ride the momentum of her Daytona top-five. The ARCA Racing Series returns to action April 7 at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway for the Music City 200.