She is 80 percent of the way through her first Sprint Cup experience. And she's still standing. More than points and results, that's what counts right now for Danica Patrick.
"I really believe what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," she said Wednesday at the Hilton Anatole, her first stop on a mini-media blitz ahead of her double-duty weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. "And I'll be better for it."
The 30-year-old from Roscoe, Ill., must take comfort from at least that part of her rookie tour through some of NASCAR's most demanding tracks.
Because the results aren't anything to hang on the wall. She hasn't finished in the top half of any of her eight Sprint Cup races to date. She hasn't finished on the lead lap. And she's been wrecked out of two.
But that's OK. That was part of the plan all along in her first year with Stewart-Haas Racing -- let her run a handful of the most challenging tracks now, in a part-time season where she is not racing for championship points, and get ready for a full-time run next season.
Texas Motor Speedway and the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday are next up in the 10-point plan to prepare her for Sprint Cup. She'll also run the O'Reilly Challenge on Saturday as part of her full-time Nationwide Series schedule, in which she ranks 10th in the driver standings.
"Some of the tougher races this year, the ones that I didn't think I would enjoy as much -- like Darlington or even Dover or Bristol -- I think are maybe some of my favorites coming away from the year," she said. "Sometimes that has to do with expectations. Expectations are this terrible thing, where you think this is going to be really amazing and it's a letdown. It's like going to that movie you've heard so much about, and then you go and you're like, 'Meh, it was fine,' but then you don't hear a thing about one and see it and it's like the best movie you've seen all year.
"Expectations play a huge part. I'm sure some of that plays a part in why I like some of the difficult ones."
The 1.5-mile oval at TMS might or might not count as a difficult Sprint Cup race, but she knows the track well. She has run 11 races at TMS -- eight in the IndyCar Series (including a second-place finish in 2010) and three in the Nationwide Series (including an eighth-place finish in April).
Sunday will be her first Sprint Cup race at TMS, and she'll also do it with a new crew chief. SHR put veteran crew chief Mike Gibson in charge of Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet for her final two races, at Fort Worth and Phoenix next week.
"I talked to Danica about it, and our thought process is small goals -- small goals and try to make improvements each practice," Gibson said. "We just want to make small gains. We want to set forth reasonable, reachable goals for her and this race team. We have two races to get started, so we're going to use these as kind of a test session for 2013. We want her to get confidence in us and us to get a feel for what she wants."
Getting that feel has been a big part of the transition for Patrick from the open-wheel vehicles of IndyCar, where she spent the first seven years of her career, to the stock cars in NASCAR.
"They're used to hearing certain words more commonly than others," she said. "I have a different language completely, coming from open wheel racing and a much more European-based style of talking about the cars. Sometimes the things that I say aren't wrong, they just don't register. They don't always make sense."
Gibson believes that might be an advantage somehow. Sunday, he -- and she -- will get a chance to see if his hunch is true.
"A lot of the veteran drivers already have a mindset about what will and won't work with these cars," he said. "With a new driver like Danica, she's open-minded and has the attitude of, 'Just feed me what you want to feed me, and I'll give you feedback on it.' So it's like a huge test session for us."
Still, it would be nice to have good results come out of the test. Patrick agrees with a smile.
"I think there's an understanding that I will be getting better," she said. "Just participating in the laps and not learning is really not what's happening. What's happening is participating in all the laps and learning."
Patrick's Cup tour
Danica Patrick has run eight of the 10 Sprint Cup races she was scheduled to run this year, with Texas and Phoenix left. A rundown of the results in her first races in a Cup car:
138 of 202
362 of 368
395 of 400
434 of 500
321 of 327
265 of 267
393 of 400
154 of 267
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