BY ANDREW WARD
When asked about why he would be rooting for Danica Patrick in last Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400, Shaquille O’Neal’s answer had nothing to do with how well she drives.
“She’s hot,” the former NBA all-star said with a shrug.
He then put his thumb to his ear and his pinkie finger to his mouth like a telephone.
“Call me, Danica,” he said.
The motion was greeted with a chorus of laughter, especially from fellow Grown Ups 2 actors Kevin James and Adam Sandler.
“Don’t call him Danica,” Sandler said, waving his hands in front of his body.
Patrick seemed to be a celebrity favorite Saturday.
Country singer and Grammy award winner Sheryl Crow, who performed before the race, was also rooting for the only female driver.
“I feel that even with the fewer amount of miles she’s logged on these NASCAR tracks, she’s made us females real proud,” Crow said.
Actress Alyssa Milano was also in attendance Saturday, promoting a new clothing line with a focus on female NASCAR fans. Some of the shirts will feature drivers such as Patrick, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jimmie Johnson won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday while
Matt Kenseth won Friday night’s Subway Firecracker 250.
A USS Gettysburg machinery repairman still can’t believe he drove a car on the Daytona International Speedway track early Saturday afternoon.
NASCAR chose Brandon Woodward, a repair division lead petty officer for the U.S. Navy, as an honorary pace-car official as a part of An American Salute and the Troops to the Track program. The organization is a part of the Armed Forces Foundation.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Woodward, who was joined at Daytona International Speedway by his wife and about 10 fellow crew members of the USS Gettysburg.
“I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like tonight.”
Economaki earns honor
The “Dean of Motorsports” became the third recipient of the Squier-Hall award for NASCAR Media Excellence Saturday afternoon.
Broadcasters Winston Kelly and Barney Hall, for whom the award is named along with fellow broadcasting legend Ken Squier, announced the late Chris Economaki — the editor of National Speed Sport News for over 50 years — as the winner. Economaki died in September at age 91.
“I learned a lot from watching him cover the sport the way he did,” Hall said. “I kind of wish he was here to enjoy the award with me.”
Economaki will be honored with the award at the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Jan. 29.
Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer Matt Murschel contributed to this report.