DARLINGTON NOTEBOOK

Patrick earns her stripes

Daredevil wary of Darlington’s curves

ashain@thestate.comMay 12, 2012 

— After smacking the Darlington wall four times in Nationwide and Sprint Cup practice, Danica Patrick hopes she and the track can have a better relationship someday.

“I can only imagine that once I finally get a good grip on it, I’m going to be much more confident out there, and maybe the lady in black and I will become friends,” Patrick said Friday. “Honestly, I feel glad I’ve got the stripes.”

Crew chief Greg Zipadelli told her the hits would not have caused other problems for the car. “That’s good knowledge for me,” she said. “Instead of panicking or worrying and thinking I need to pit for the car being broken, I can just keep going and not worry about it.”

Patrick was the slowest racer in the first two-hour session — 9 mph slow than the leader. She improved in the second practice session.

“Obviously, I’m not super-fast. I didn’t expect to be very fast,” Patrick said. “I expected to just get experience out there. Would I like to be higher up the chart? Absolutely.”

Her boss, Tony Stewart, said she has done a good job of keeping the big picture in mind.

“I said, ‘You are going to hate me by the end of tomorrow night,’ ” Stewart said. “She goes, ‘Yeah, but I’m going to love you next year when we come back and run this full-time.’ ”

What scares Pastrana

He’s a daredevil on motorcycles, but Darlington has put a big bit of fear in Travis Pastrana. The X Games veteran spun out during his practice session.

“Never been scared in a NASCAR until today,” said Pastrana, who is making his first appearance at the track in the Nationwide series. “It’s definitely faster than it looks on TV.”

Pastrana, who is running a limited Nationwide schedule while driving full time in the K&N Pro Series East series, was surprised to see veteran drivers hitting the wall and collecting a stripe.

“They’re the best drivers in the world, and they’re hitting the wall,” he said. “And that’s with no one on the track.”

His car was be a little lighter. Pastrana cut his hair — something he said he wouldn’t do until he won. But his wife threatened to divorce him.

“She wasn’t too optimistic about my winning in the near future,” Pastrana said.

Jimmie the counselor?

Jeff Gordon is stuck in 23rd place in the points standings after bouts of bad luck. He has the 11th-best average running position but the 26th-best average finish.

“The results suck, but the performance has been really good,” said his teammate, Jimmie Johnson, who sits eighth in points. “Maybe I should reach out to him.”

Gordon joked that Johnson lacks the necessary experience for counseling him.

“Jimmie has no experience going through a bad time in this sport,” Gordon said. “I feel like if I was struggling competition wise than I would be definitely tapping into him. But we’re running good.”

No. 11 honored

After making the No. 11 the winningest number in NASCAR history, Denny Hamlin is driving a vintage-paint scheme this weekend used by Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough, a Timmonsville native.

Hamlin said he would have liked a chance to race in the 1960s.

“These guys had no air conditioning, no power steering, no nothing,” Hamlin said. “You had to have some arms on you. You had to have mental toughness back then.”

Then Yarborough chimed in: “No, he’d rather be winning all that money he’s winning now.”

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