Danica Patrick earns 'Darlington Stripe,' ready for Sprint race tonight

NASCAR driver Danica Patrick is driving better than expected at Darlington, and Greg Biffle sits on the pole for tonight's Sprint Cup race.

Fans and non-fans alike of Danica Patrick have eagerly been awaiting the rookie NASCAR driver’s debut at Darlington, notorious for putting drivers into the wall—a problem Patrick has not needed help with so far this season. But, overall, Patrick has managed to maneuver the quirky Darlington track quite well thus far—at least, coming away from practices and Nationwide with her cars in one piece.

Patrick hit the wall initially in her first Nationwide Series practice run, clipping it with the right-rear. In the first Sprint Cup practice, she also hit the wall as she entered Turn 3, and hit it again in basically the same spot during a later run through the course. Finally, in her last practice run, she hit the wall between Turns 3 and 4, finally achieving the notorious “Darlington Stripe.”

"I got my stripe!" Patrick said excitedly over the radio.

Contact with the wall at Darlington is considered inevitable, with the lane being the fastest way around the track, only a few feet from either the concrete wall or the SAFER barrier at any given time. New drivers, like Patrick, often find the course disconcerting.

"As a driver, my comfort level with the wall is definitely medium," she said on NASCAR.com. "I don't think even in IndyCars I liked being up against the wall. ... Coming into these stock cars, I'm definitely a lot more comfortable getting up higher and higher, but here at Darlington, you're riding the wall. You're not kind of using it as a reference, you're riding the wall. It's a whole new level of getting comfortable with it. You're definitely as a driver threading the needle out here, and every driver that's out here deserves definite credit for running well. If they have a good weekend, they're darn good drivers. Because this is definitely tough."

But, comfortable or not, Patrick did not run away from the wall. Between practice, qualifying, and the Nationwide race, where she finshed 12th, she got a lot of experience at Darlington in a short period of time, which she will no doubt need against the best-of-the-best in Sprint Cup tonight.

Eury pleased with Danica’s performance

"Very, very positive," her crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., said about the Nationwide race. "I'm very happy. We were kind of expecting the worst here, but she surprised us all and stepped up to the plate and did a good job."

Tonight, Patrick will race with the big boys in Sprint. Wherever she finishes, she is likely to take home a lot of new knowledge about the wall at Darlington.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying at Darlington was as follows:

  1. Greg Biffle
  2. Jimmie Johnson
  3. Kasey Kahne
  4. Ryan Newman
  5. Kyle Busch
  6. Martin Truex Jr.
  7. Carl Edwards
  8. Denny Hamlin
  9. Regan Smith
  10. Jeff Burton
  11. Jamie McMurray
  12. Jeff Gordon
  13. Aric Almirola
  14. Paul Menard
  15. Brad Keselowski
  16. AJ Allmendinger
  17. Tony Stewart
  18. Mark Martin
  19. Matt Kenseth
  20. Landon Cassill
  21. Joey Logano
  22. Bobby Labonte
  23. Kevin Harvick
  24. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  25. Kurt Busch
  26. Clint Bowyer
  27. Juan Pablo Montoya
  28. Marcos Ambrose
  29. Scott Speed
  30. Josh Wise
  31. Casey Mears
  32. David Stremme
  33. Travis Kvapil
  34. Dave Blaney
  35. Mike Skinner
  36. David Gilliland
  37. David Ragan
  38. Danica Patrick
  39. Cole Whitt
  40. Joe Nemechek
  41. David Reutimann
  42. Reed Sorenson
  43. J.J. Yeley

The Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway is scheduled to start tonight, Saturday, May 12, at 6:30 p.m. ET. It will be broadcast by FOX.

UPDATE: Jimmie Johnson wins Darlington, finally gives Rick Hendrick win 200

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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