(credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
By: Farrah Kaye
The Lady in Black had a date with the Lady in Green this weekend at Darlington Raceway, better known as the track "too tough to tame." Danica Patrick was set to make her first start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since Daytona and all eyes were on her.
When would she earn her first "Darlington stripe?" Would she finish the race? Would she have a Darlington run-in with someone?
She started out with practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series VFW Sports Clips Help a Hero 200, where she finished 17th and earned her first stripe. Patrick would go on to qualify for the race 15th.
"I hit the wall a few times out there," she said of earning her first stripe. "The first time I hit the wall was my first run in the Nationwide car. I clipped it with the right rear on the exit of turn two."
On the Cup side, Patrick's first practice did not go well. She finished 47th out of 47 cars.
"I hit it entering three and then the next time I hit it flat in three and four in the middle of the corner. And right before that I hit the entry to three wall again," she recalled. "I've hit it four times now. Getting pretty cozy with it."
In the second practice, Patrick improved, finish 24th and eventually qualified 38th for the Bojangles' Southern 500. Even if she needed to qualify on time (had the car not been in the top 35), she would have made the field.
The Nationwide race for Patrick was uneventful. She ran in the mid-to-low teens all night and took the wave around to stay on the lead lap. She finished 12th, on the lead lap and without a stripe on the side of her car.
"It was a decent night. The car was a little tight to start and then it was little loose there (at the end)," Patrick said of her run. "If we had a longer run at the end, we could've taken advantage of it. I don't have a Darlington stripe. All the crew was really happy, it's good to see them happy. It's good to come away from this place and have a decent run."
The race was won by Joey Logano, who took two straight Nationwide wins and the third for the season. He still remains the only Cup driver to win a Nationwide race.
On the Cup side, Patrick had another uneventful race but with worse results. She was quickly put a lap down and struggled to keep up with the field.
With new spotter Tab Boyd on loan from Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Patrick clicked off laps without hitting the wall. It wasn't until around lap 200 that she earned her first official race stripe.
"Here on the Cup side, my goals were to be respectable out there. I think I held my own alright. And, the other one was to finish, and both of those things happened. So, overall, good night. I will be much less worried coming back to this place," Patrick said.
Patrick finished the race six laps down in 31st while Jimmie Johnson took home Hendrick Motorsports' 200th victory.
Next weekend, Patrick heads to Iowa with the Nationwide Series and will return to the Cup series the following weekend while pulling double duty at Charlotte Motor Speedway, running in the historic Coca-Cola 600, which Patrick said she is ready for.
"It's really good to do a nice long race at a challenging track where it is about car control and feeling things out because the Coke 600 is going to be a big weekend," she said. "Double duty again on obviously a real high profile weekend. It will be nice to have gotten one like this out of the way. Then we just tack on another 100 miles and we are there."
Farrah Kaye is a NASCAR columnist for CBS Local Digital Media 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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