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NASCAR Crocker's advancement simmers for now



Published: Sun, July 10, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The 24-year-old female driver has much to learn about stock cars.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Don't expect to see Erin Crocker driving a NASCAR Nextel Cup car real soon.

With all the fuss over the Indy Racing League's Danica Patrick during the past month, there had been speculation that Crocker's climb to NASCAR's pinnacle would be hurried along to take advantage of the sudden media frenzy about female drivers.

Not so, says Ray Evernham, head of Evernham Motorsports, which hired Crocker last September as part of its driver development program.

The 24-year-old Crocker already has proven her ability in sprint cars on dirt tracks, winning a race in the highly competitive World of Outlaws series. But her stock car learning curve is a steep one.

"Hey, you're looking at a girl who has not run that many times on pavement," Evernham said before Crocker finished seventh in an ARCA race at Michigan International Speedway in mid-June. "And she's doing a pretty good job. But she needs lots of laps in a stock car."

Critical spin

In her first stock car start, an ARCA race in March at Nashville, Crocker won the pole but spun during the race and finished 12th. She also put the car on the pole Friday for the ARCA race in Sparta, Ky., and finished second.

"She did a good job at Nashville," Evernham said. "She just made a rookie mistake and got up underneath Chad Blount and spun out. I've got her being really cautious. We've got the car set up pretty conservative because we don't want her spinning out."

Evernham's Cup team also was running at Michigan, so he acted as her spotter in that race.

"She's a racer and we've just got to get her racing some more," said Evernham, who plans to run Crocker in at least three more ARCA races, as well as five NASCAR Busch Series races, this season.

"She's doing a good job, doing what we ask of her," he said. "I think, some days, she'd like me to let the reins out on her a little bit faster. We hold her back quite a bit. But we're going to bring her up slow and make sure that when she gets the opportunity that she is ready."

That's OK with Crocker, who still races regularly in the World of Outlaws as well as running an open-wheel car for friend and fellow Evernham driver Kasey Kahne's team in the U.S. Auto Club's Silver Crown series.

Doing it right

"I would like to go faster, because I am a race car driver," she said. "I want things to go faster and happen tomorrow. But, in talking with Ray, the idea is to take it slow and do it right.

"You can't go out there before you are ready, because it would be a huge mistake. Let's just say Danica went out there and had a terrible day in Indy. Her reputation probably would have been hurt forever. We only have one chance, especially since everyone will be watching us. You can't blow it, so you can't rush it."

Speaking of Patrick -- who on May 29 became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and finished fourth, the best result by a woman -- Crocker is reaping some benefits from those feats.

"I've probably done more interviews in the past few weeks than I've done all year," she said. "I like all the media attention."

Crocker is going to get a lot more if she keeps improving the way she has.

"It's great that ladies are getting some attention, but Erin is going to get attention because she's good, not just because she's a lady," Evernham said.




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