Natalie Decker keeps cool, finishes fifth in wreck-filled ARCA opener at Daytona

Pole sitter Natalie Decker met with the media at Daytona International Speedway before Saturday's Lucas Oil 200 ARCA race. Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Natalie Decker toughed out a fifth-place finish Saturday in an ARCA race where she sat on the pole, suffered damage on a restart when she got into the back of another car and then maneuvered her way through several wrecks at Daytona International Speedway.

Decker's cooling system was not hooked into her helmet, causing her to overheat during the race and need oxygen and fluids in the infield medical center after the event. It also is not rare for drivers to get overheated in the hot stock cars when waiting for the race to resume, and Saturday's race had two red flags because of accidents.

"I got fifth, right?" Decker said after leaving the medical center following nearly an hour of treatment. "Whoo! I didn't know exactly [where I finished] and that's what they told me, but I want to know it's official."

A rookie in ARCA, the 20-year-old Decker was 10th at the time of the first race stoppage and fourth on the final restart with one lap remaining, but the outside lane is not the preferred position, and she ended up fifth.

"My car kept overheating after I went through grass to avoid a wreck, and it just lost a little power at the end," Decker said. "The water temp was way too hot, and I had no water pressure or anything.

"But I was coming into [Turns] 3 and 4 and I couldn't give up then. We ended up fifth."

The race, which took nearly three hours, was won by Michael Self, a Venturini Motorsports teammate of Decker's. Despite the violent wrecks, there were no serious injuries.

"This race was crazy," Decker said. "That's all I've got to say. It was fun, though. I did mess up there in the beginning, and I got a little damage to the left front [of the car].

"I really wish I didn't do that. We probably would have had a better finish than fifth. But my first time at Daytona, I sat on the pole and got fifth. So I'm really happy."

She said her spotter, veteran NASCAR spotter Eddie D'Hondt, kept her motivated.

"Eddie's good -- he stayed so calm, and I told him my airbox [cooling unit], they forgot to hook it up," Decker said. "He said, 'Just hang in there. You'll be OK.'"

Leilani Munter, another Venturini Motorsports driver, finished eighth.