Danica Patrick will hit Martinsville Speedway, the shortest track on the Sprint Cup schedule, this weekend. / Peter Casey, USA TODAY Sports
MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Many drivers employ humor to cope with disastrous debuts at Martinsville Speedway, but it'll be no laughing matter for Danica Patrick if Sunday's STP 500 is a new miserable experience.
"I think (the Las Vegas race) was the worst day of my life," she said with a laugh Friday morning before her first laps on the 0.526-mile oval in Sprint Cup practice.. "I can't have another worst day of my life."
Patrick, though, is expecting the shortest track in NASCAR's premier series could make for a very long afternoon, and there'd be no shortage of veterans who would agree. As a rookie at Martinsville in 2000, Dale Earnhardt Jr. jokes about running into competitors' cars, the pace car and an ambulance on his way to a 36th. Tony Stewart initially hated the place so much, he said it was "a parking lot with curbs" and would have been better served as a bass pond.
Three-time champion Stewart is a three-time winner at Martinsville, and Patrick said she'd be using her car owner as a sounding board for advice while also following his line around the oval in practice.
But she conceded, "I don't know what to expect. Am I going to go out there and be just fine or am I going to go out there and be a total disaster? It might feel like those times when I drove a Nationwide car for the first time at tracks that I hadn't been to and all I do is look in my mirror the whole time for what's going on."
Stewart-Haas Racing had scheduled to test Patrick at Martinsville, but plans were scuttled because a new tire couldn't be used. She did turn laps at Rockingham Speedway's short track and seemed confident she learned about proper braking and building stamina.
Martinsville also will mark only the second time Patrick has made a track debut this season (having raced Cup prior to the 2013 season at Daytona International Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway).
"I always feel like the more new a situation is, kind of the less expectations there are and in general the less pressure and less nerves," she said. "Definitely being here for the first time and understanding how challenging it is, I feel like it's only up from here. I have no doubt that it will be a hard day, but I'm also of the belief that it can also be a really fun day. If the car performs as well as it did at (the test), there's no reason we can't have a decent day."
Since finishing eighth from the pole position in the season-opening Daytona 500, Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet hasn't finished in the top 25 in four starts.
"It's been not as good as what I had hoped for," she said. "Then again I also said I'm not going to set expectation levels at this point."
Patrick did manage a 26th two weeks ago in her first outing at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., which provided a glimmer of hope.
"I really thought I was going to get lapped five or more times at least; that's how bad I felt in practice," she said. "We did end up a lap down, but at least we were kind of respectable. Most importantly, we made the car better throughout the race. That was something that hasn't happened all season. So that's a positive I take from Fontana."
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Read the original story: Danica Patrick hopes to avoid the worst at Martinsville