Nightly News | February 24, 2012
>>> finally, this friday night, a lot of americans are excited for sunday because sunday is the academy awards . some of us, however, are additionally excited to watch something earlier in the day, the daytona 500 , the official start of the nascar season. this year made even more exciting because of a new driver in the lineup, danica patrick . she drives fast. she's highly marketable. her debut in this race is one of the biggest developments in the recent history of the biggest spectator sport in the land. yet for a moment there yesterday afternoon, it looked a little dicey.
>> a lot of drivers.
>> she was running in the top ten in a very fast qualifying race and she was moving up when she got caught up in someone else's wreck. and her car shot across to the infield wall. it was a hard hit made softer by the new so-called soft wall technology. she walked away. she'll drive the backup car on sunday, and she knows the wreck could have ended differently. i watched your wreck thinking in a strange way, it's because dale earnhardt died a decade ago at that track that the soft wall technology exists, that you were able -- you iced a few bruises, last night, but were able to walk away from that.
>> that's right. it's a real testament to the safety crew and the work they do on the cars, then also having that safer barrier . it wasn't long ago that wasn't a spot where the safer barrier was. so it makes me feel a lot better knowing that and makes me feel better, literally, being able to get out of the car and walk away and not having anything but a couple of bruises. that was a big hit .
>> danica patrick is the leader!
>> she was the most successful woman in the history of the indy style open wheel racing , the only woman ever to win in that series. the only one to place third in the indy 500 . now in nascar 's top class, while it's fast, she'll have a lot more car around her. nascar , as you know, is a contact sport . you're bumping and rubbing all the way around the oval. it must feel better to have more car around you.
>> there is definitely a level of confidence that you have in a stock car racing with other cars out there. they can come and they can literally lay car to car on you and, you know, a lot of times nothing happens. in an indy car really bad things happen.
>> reporter: can da patrick is a big brand name. she had to prove herself on the track, and off the track she turned a lot of heads, modeling in next to nothing. now on sunday, she will drive alongside 42 others, all hungry for a victory. who i does it feel for you there going into this race? the woman thing aside, you're also a larger figure, a larger celebrity than a lot of the other 42 drivers in the field. you come in there with a certain public image, and of course, i know it gets proven or disproven out on the track.
>> it does. usually when things go well on the track things go well on the media side of things. i've been really fortunate over the years to have really great partners that build me up. people that run commercials and run ads and people that know me as the go daddy girl and not just a race car driver .
>> part of our talk late today with danica patrick , who by the way, will now have to get used to driving slower than she is used to compare to her old ride in indy cars . stock cars are heavier and not as fast, by about