While the result shows Danica Patrick finished 31st in the Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Saturday night at Darlington Raceway, the valuable experience she gained can’t be summed up in a box score.
Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet Impala for Tommy Baldwin Racing via a collaborative agreement with Stewart-Haas Racing, had never seen the 1.336-mile oval until last Thursday. But she had heard plenty of stories about the treacherous egg-shaped oval and its knack for being difficult for even the most veteran drivers.
The goals for her were to simply finish the race and log as many laps as possible in just her second Sprint Cup Series start. While she finished six laps behind the leaders, she exceeded even her own expectations.
“I know I didn’t have a great result,” Patrick said. “But I accomplished all the things I wanted to accomplish. Things went good on the Nationwide side. Here on the (Sprint) Cup side, my goals were to be respectable out there. I think I held my own all right. 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.
“I definitely got a feel for all the elements. Starts, restarts and pitting, and all that stuff. Just how to get runs on cars. What to do when the car feels a certain way. Which lines to take, and to accommodate for the car and how it feels. We started out really loose, and then we kind of struggled. Then it was really good when Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief) fixed it. Then it was kind of tight the rest of the night. Just me working with that. I'd rather be a little tight than loose, especially here at Darlington. I earned my stripes anyway. But anyway, good night for the whole GoDaddy crew. Appreciate everyone's support, especially GoDaddy.”
Her race strategist, Greg Zipadelli, was happy with Patrick’s maiden voyage to Darlington.
“She did a great job,” Zipadelli said. “I was impressed with her all weekend. The goal was just to finish and get as many laps as she could, and she did that. She was great getting on and off pit road tonight and just overall did a really good job. I’m very pleased with how she did tonight. The more laps she gets, the better, and tonight was a great learning experience for her.”
Jimmie Johnson won the Southern 500, marking the 56th Sprint Cup victory of his career, his first of the season and his third at Darlington. It also brought Hendrick Motorsports its milestone 200th Sprint Cup win.
Denny Hamlin finished .781 of a second behind Johnson in the runner-up spot, while Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top-five. Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 38 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 368-lap race, which was extended one lap by a green-white-checkered finish.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race Saturday, May 19 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The non-point-paying event begins at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by SPEED beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m. SPEED’s “RaceDay” will begin at 4 p.m.
Patrick’s next Sprint Cup Series start will come in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday, May 27 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.