For the last time on the circuit, Danica Patrick turned her first laps at a track. Atlanta Motor Speedway is a "cookie cutter" 1.5 mile track, similar to Texas and Charlotte, tracks where Patrick has already been. But Atlanta is different in that it's run towards the end of the summer, when it's hot, humid and the track is slick.
The race starts as the sun is setting and drivers can barely see and ends under the starry night sky. The track temperature – and conditions – change as the laps click off.
Patrick's weekend started off similar to Bristol, on the bottom of the charts during practices (42nd, 32nd and 38th) and started 23rd. Patrick, however, felt good about her qualifying run for the AdvoCare 500.
"It was better than it has been. The car felt pretty comfortable. It was much more comfortable getting into the corner which was something that I was asking for at the end of practice," she said. "I appreciate when 'Zippy' (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief) and everybody trusts me and they trust my opinion on what is going on with the car because I'm obviously so fresh to all of this.
"As a driver the only thing you can do is trust your gut. If it says loose or it says tight then it's kind of what you've got to go with. Again, I just appreciate them trusting me."
In the race, Patrick was never a factor for the win. She was lapped fairly quickly (in all fairness, most of the field was – at one point, there were only seven cars on the lead lap). She took the wave around several times, but eventually finished six laps down and recorded in 29th position.
"I think we picked up overall throughout the race and we were learning about the car," she said. "I was afraid it was going to be just tank slapping the whole time. Between that, the practices and me saying that, I think Zippy wants me to be comfortable and there is nothing worse than a loose race car for early stages. He said that we were running a pretty conservative set-up and the changes he was making were not huge changes so it didn't step over.
"We are just in that phase of get the laps done, feel it out, run different lines, bring the car home, finish the race and try and learn a bit as we go. He said that I don't know if it was the whole time or some of the time, but running top 20 lap times. I think that is a good step for me. This is definitely a challenging track. I struggle most on tracks where there is low grip or they are flat. I would consider this a low grip feeling track. So we did what we meant to do."
Denny Hamlin took home the win, after a late-race dominance by Martin Truex Jr. Brad Keselowski was third.
In the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, Matt Kenseth, Truex, Keselowski, Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick join Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson in the locked-in positions. Tony Stewart clinched a Wild Card spot should he fall out of the top 10.
On the Nationwide side, Patrick had an uneventful race until lap 188 when she was involved in a wreck with James Buescher, Kyle Fowler and Mike Bliss. While the other three recorded DNFs, Patrick finished the race, two laps down.
"I pretty much was running the bottom all night, and then at the end when we got tightened up we could run up high and that's kind of what led to that second-to-last restart. I went up high, was comfortable up there, got a really good run, I was following Brad (Keselowski) – I knew he'd be going like crazy," she said. "We just got a really good run off and everybody's trying to take their momentum as far as they can.
"Unfortunately some cars got crashed, definitely didn't mean to, I was just using the momentum off the top like I needed to. We brought the GoDaddy car home; it's not in good shape, but we got it home. The guys did a good job keeping at it."
Patrick will race this weekend at Richmond in the Virginia 529 College Savings 250. She is back to double duty at Chicagoland Speedway, her home track.
Farrah Kaye is a NASCAR columnist for CBS Local Sports and is a member of the NMPA. Her previous articles have appeared on SPEEDtv.com, newsweek.com and she holds a degree in Journalism. Follow her on Twitter @Farrah_Kaye.
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