Crash ends Milka Duno’s stock car debut

IndyCar's 2nd greatest driver of all-time (as measured by the length of her autograph line, 2nd only to Danica Patrick's) Milka Duno made her stock car racing debut in the ARCA Racing Series presented by RE/MAX and Menards season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway today and despite power issues was able to qualify for and compete in her inaugural stock car race. A major fourteen-car pile-up in the early laps caught Duno's #90 Toyota and ended her race prematurely.

CANTV was on-board as primary sponsor and Celebrity Jazz as associate sponsor for Duno's first effort in today's Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona.

At the ARCA Series open test at Daytona in December, and in her very first time in a stock car, Milka was the fastest stock car rookie on the second day of the three-day test. On the third day of the test the car developed a loss of power which ended her session early.

The engine was replaced for a test session at Talladega in January — but the car didn't seem to have the power it had at Daytona. Subsequent dynamometer testing showed that the new engine had 15 less horsepower than the Daytona test engine — and was shipped back. A new engine arrived just in time for the team to install it in the No. 90 Toyota before departing for the race — but not with enough time to test it on the dynamometer.

In Thursday's practice session Duno quickly noticed that this engine also did not have full power — evidenced by reaching only 6800rpm rather than the normal 7200rpm. Her practice times and qualifying times were further indications that something was not right. Nonetheless, out of 56 cars entered, Duno was one of 43 cars making it into today's race.

"We had a good December test and the team had provided me with a good car," said Milka. "We noticed at Talladega that the car just wasn't performing as well as it did in December and the team did everything they could to solve the problem. But during our first practice session here at Daytona we noticed that we were still experiencing the same issues — and it was a major disappointment for me and the team as well. There's not a lot we can do to solve this issue here — so we've done the best we could and we're in the race," added Duno.

Duno started the race in 41st and utilized both skill and the draft to advance her position. By lap five she had already advanced as many as ten positions when an accident ahead on the track began to collect cars in its wake — a total of fourteen. Duno was set to clear a disabled car when another car coming very fast from behind veered left and pushed her into the disabled car — which then damaged her car to the point that she was unable to re-renter the race. Duno was taken to the infield medical center along with the other drivers involved and left the center unhurt — but disappointed.

"It ended up being a pretty tough week for us – we were handicapped with power issues — but we were determined to do the best we could under the circumstances, said Duno. "As soon as the green flag waved I knew that in order to advance I would need to be very careful in selecting when to pass and when to draft — and it was working. In only a very short time we had advanced something like ten positions and it felt good — it felt that despite the power issues we may be able to have a fairly good race. Then there was an accident up ahead and everyone was going everywhere to avoid contact. I was just about clear when I was caught up."

"We had to deal with some adversity in our first race," added Duno. "But we just kept working on things — working together as a team — and we weren't going to give up. We were going to have to run our race smarter due to the lack of power and that's just what we were doing. It's too bad that we got caught up in the early race pile-up — it would have been interesting to see how we might have finished had we not been collected in the accident."

Concerned about the plight of the people in Haiti, Duno's effort today included a special message to the fans encouraging them to support the American Red Cross Haiti Disaster Relief efforts.

"Haiti has been hit with devastating earthquakes and the people there need our help now and will need our help for sometime," said Milka. People involved in racing are some of the most generous people I have ever met and I'm hoping that they would be willing to help the people in Haiti during this incredibly difficult time."

Duno was inducted into the Latin American International Sports Hall of Fame last Saturday, January 30, 2010. Milka was selected for her racing achievements, her personal excellence in education and her passion in stressing the importance of education to students of all ages through her "Milka Way" program.

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