Danica Patrick says her only goal for her second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series outing at Darlington is to see the checkered flag at one of the championship's toughest venues.
Despite running a full season in the Nationwide Series, Patrick will only be making her second Cup start in the No. 10 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet on Saturday night, following a tough baptism in NASCAR's elite series in the Daytona 500, where she was involved in incidents in both the qualifying race and the main event.
The former IndyCar star struggled during the first practice session where she ranked slowest, 1.5 seconds off pacesetter Kevin Harvick, having a brush with the wall which left the tradtional "Darlington stripe" (ABOVE) on the right side of her car.
"This is a tough place and everything they said about it is true," said Patrick following her first few laps at the 1.366-mile oval. "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."
Despite a tough first outing in her Cup car on Friday, having run earlier in the day in her Nationwide series Chevy, Patrick made good progress during the second practice session, ranking 24th and improving her speed steadily. Later in the day she ran her fastest lap on her second qualifying flyer, finishing 38th fastest out of 47 cars.
Although she was guaranteed the start on Saturday's race thanks to her car's top-35 status in the owners' standings, being driven by David Reutimann since the second race of the year at Phoenix, her time would have allowed her to make the field regardless.
"I just want to finish, which is going to be a challenge I think," Patrick said. "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."