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From the Marbles

Danica Patrick’s first dance with the Lady in Black was a rocky one

Jay Busbee
From The Marbles

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Danica's first Darlington stripes. (Getty Images)

Well, it's a start.

Danica Patrick has met the Lady in Black, and the first round goes to Darlington. In the first practice, Patrick recorded the slowest time of any driver, 167.997, nearly 10 mph slower than leader Kevin Harvick.

Now, before the freakouts begin: Patrick knows exactly where she belongs in the Sprint Cup pecking order. "I'm not coming in thinking I should be anywhere in particular based on my extreme lack of experience and knowledge of this place," she said after the practice. "Darlington was chosen as a track to come to in a Cup car because of how difficult it is and because of how much track time it takes to get comfortable."

Patrick earned her first Darlington stripe, hitting the wall once in the Nationwide car and four times in the Cup car. "I definitely think getting through the night with a respectable night is what I'm hoping for in the Nationwide car," she said. "And as far as the Cup car, I just want to finish.  I just want to finish, which is going to be a challenge I think."

[Jay Busbee: Danica Patrick deserved punishment for wrecking Hornish Jr.]

Other drivers have sympathy for Patrick in her initial run at Darlington, which Dale Earnhardt Jr. called "one of the toughest tracks that we run on.  I think it's great for her to come here and get that experience early for a full season next year ... Only a very few drivers come in here for their first time and really walk away with a successful weekend.  Most drivers that come here for the first time do struggle, so I wouldn't be too concerned if I was her if she didn't get the results that she was expecting.  This is a place that you have to learn the ropes and pay your dues or it will jump out and get you when you least expect it."

Patrick's lessons begin Friday night in the Nationwide race. Any bets on how long she'll last?

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