DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. For one aspiring NASCAR pit crew member, Christmas came a little later than usual.
Or it may have come a little faster than anticipated.
Christmas Abbott, an elite-level fitness athlete whose journey to become a fulltime pit crew member has been well-chronicled, saw her dream come true this week.
Three days after Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a pole in a Sprint Cup Series race, Michael Waltrip Racing announced it had hired Abbott as a fulltime pit crew member for its Cup operation.
Abbott, 31, will be a weekend warrior with MWR, traveling to all Cup events in a pit support role. Her long-term goal is to go over the wall as a tire changer.
Right now, Abbott would be the only woman in NASCAR employed as a fulltime pit crew member.
This is just the first step for me, she said. Ive been training for several months. This is the most challenging thing I have ever done.
Im here to do whatever my coaches ask of me, and I dont want any handouts. Im ready to work three races a weekend if thats what it takes to get me where I want to be.
Im in this for the long haul.
At 5-foot-3 and 115 pounds, Abbott doesnt look much like any of the other over-the-wall pit crew members.
There have been women pit crew members in some lower level NASCAR series, including an all-female pit crew that was put together as a publicity stunt to help generate a sponsor for some Truck series races for another woman driver, Shawna Robinson, in 2003.
Otherwise, when it has come to NASCARs premier series, strength issues have tended to curtail the involvement of women on over-the-wall pit crews.
MWRs pit coaches said they had seen enough development from Abbott to name her to the MWR travel squad.
Abbott will be on hand Thursday with MWR for the two 150-mile qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway and will likely gauge tires for Clint Bowyers No. 15 Toyota team.
MWR team co-owner Michael Waltrip called Abbott an incredible elite athlete.
She has worked with our crews by bringing some cross-fit elements to their workouts. She is a competitor and when she decided to start working towards an over-the-wall position, we said we are the perfect place to make it happen, he said.
As Danica has seen, it takes a lot of work and dedication to get to the top level of her trade. With her Daytona 500 pole, it seems so much of that work has been worth it.
I believe the same can hold true for Christmas. We expect her to excel or we wouldnt commit the position to her.