Danica Patrick knew Darlington Raceway would present a challenge.
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Although Patrick “felt pretty comfortable” behind the wheel of her NASCAR Nationwide ride, once she climbed behind the wheel of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet and earned her first of several Darlington stripes, Patrick finally realized how difficult the transition to Sprint Cup would be.
“I’m chanting to myself, ‘Be brave’,” Patrick said on the radio nearing the end of Sprint Cup Happy Hour on Friday as she searched for the fastest line around the track. That was an improvement from being “a little freaked out” a couple of hours before when Patrick was last on the speed chart after first practice. Her fastest lap was 167.997 mph.
She lost valuable time dialing in the car during her first session after slapping the right side into the wall an hour into practice.
"I got the whole right side of the car that time,” Patrick told her spotter Tab Boyd, who started with the team this week. Boyd replied, "Welcome to the club.”
In Happy Hour, Patrick moved up to 24th on the speed chart with a lap of 170.851 mph.
“This is a tough place and everything they said about it is true,” Patrick said later. “This lady in black is very intimidating. I’m just trying to get comfortable with what the car needs me to do. Where to brake, how heavy to brake and those kinds of things. I’ve got my Darlington stripes officially. It’s all the way down the right side of the car. We got that one over with.
“Tony Stewart has been very helpful coming over and giving me advice and helping me out and giving me a few tips that helped. I’m very appreciative that (team owner) Chip Ganassi let Tab Boyd come over and spot for me for this Cup race. That’s a big help because he’s got a lot of knowledge. I’ve got everything in my corner, I just need time. I just need to get comfortable. It’s definitely not going to be an easy, breezy night. Like Tony said, I’m probably going to hate him by the end of the weekend. Come the future, I’m going to be glad for it.”
Patrick went on to qualify 38th for Saturday night’s race with a top lap of 175.497 mph.
Patrick is currently 11th in the Nationwide points standings. Certainly, seat time in the Nationwide Series race Friday night will allow Patrick to acclimate to the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval. She was 17th in her JR Motorsports Chevrolet in Nationwide practice, but the Nationwide cars are 200 horsepower slower than the Cup cars.
Patrick qualified 15th for the Nationwide race with a lap of 168.498 mph.
“I can only imagine that once I finally get a good grip on it, I’m going to be much more confident out there and maybe the lady in black and I will become friends one day,” Patrick said prior to that effort.
“Getting through the night with a respectable night is what I’m hoping for in the Nationwide car and as far as the Cup car — I just want to finish. I just want to finish, which is going to be a challenge, I think. The cars definitely move around quite a bit and you’re carrying a lot of speed through these corners and there’s going to be a lot of other guys that are around you running really hard.
“It’s a narrow track. Let’s face it, it’s got great big straightaways, but there’s one lane going in and out. Just getting to the end of the Cup race is going to be the accomplishment for me. It’s also going to be the best for experience.”