Patrick adjusts to Cup learning curve

Fans love emotional outbursts, a fact brought home with the antics during last Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Danica Patrick, who crashed hard following contact from Regan Smith marched toward the track and pointed at him Saturday night, certainly recognizes that.

After all, she heard the cheers from fans as it became clear at Bristol that she planned some sort of gesture to express her displeasure. Her crash came a short time after Tony Stewart launched his helmet at the car of Matt Kenseth after the pair wrecked battling for the lead.

What does she think of shows of emotions by drivers?

“I think the fans love it, they were cheering like heck for me to go up the track and do something awesome,” she said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where she will compete in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races this weekend. “At least it was awesome in their eyes. I’m just glad I didn’t give him the finger because that’s what I was going to do, and I heard that’s a fine. I’m just glad that I had the epiphany at the last second to point my finger as opposed to raise the middle one.

“Those are the emotions that are flying around at 430 or 440 laps into a 500-lap race at Bristol where you’re running tight quarters all day long and it would have been nice to finish the race off because I felt like we were headed for a lead-lap top 20 if things continued to go OK.”

Patrick was on track for a lead-lap finish when she crashed late in the race.

Still, she tried to take the positives out of the learning experience. After all, she’s debuting in the Cup ranks with a limited schedule this season.

Right now, she’s just trying to do what any other rookie driver does – learn by gaining as much track time as possible.

That includes learning to balance a sometimes slow practice – Patrick was 42nd of the 47 drivers in the opening Cup session – with what can happen over the course of a race.

“It’s true when I say I just want to finish the laps,” she said. “With the way it has gone in practice every time I’ve practiced the Cup car, which is basically like pretty much last, it’s nice and refreshing in the race when things come around and I get faster and you pass cars and you move up and you feel like you’re getting the hang of it. I’m happy to continue just hoping to finish all the laps and, again, this was another challenging practice for me out there and all I can do is hope that it goes better in the race but at the end of the day, as I’ve said many times, the most important thing for me is to get a feel for how these races go and how they evolve ad move and how the track changes.

“That’s probably the reason why (team owner) Tony (Stewart) picked some of these races. He picked longer races, he said he wanted to pick races where it transitioned from day to night and things like that so I can get a feel for how the track changes and things I need to do.”

“I think it’s going to take more time for me to set an expectation level for myself. I just need more time and more races.”