Danica Patrick turned in a sterling 12th-place finish in Sunday's NASCAR race at Martinsville Speedway.
Martinsville, a paperclip-shaped oval with long straightaways and tight corners, has a reputation for being notoriously tough on rookie drivers. And it was assumed Patrick would fare similarly to most rookies when they compete on the half-mile bullring for the first time and be lucky just to see the checkered flag.
That belief was compounded when Patrick, starting at the rear of the field after a pre-race engine change, brought out the day's first caution just 15 laps into the race. She had been jockeying with Ken Schrader when she overdrove the corner and locked up her brakes.
Patrick spun harmlessly up the track and escaped without damage.
"Felt like I kind of got pinched down but I also got in pretty hard," Patrick said post-race. "When you've got the momentum going that way, it was sort of a perfect storm.
"But I learned my lesson to make sure that you just don't go in too hard. Because they're going to be holding you tight, and there's going to be nowhere to go, nowhere to slide up, and you get into them and it's a lot ‑‑ if you've got wheel in it you're probably going to come around."
From there her afternoon seemed to be like most of her other outings this season when she quickly fell two laps down and struggled to find speed.
But as the laps clicked by, Patrick slowly figured out the nuances of navigating the tricky short track and with the aid of a couple of timely yellow flags, was able to get back on the same lap as the leaders.
Once she was back on the lead lap Patrick was on the move, picking her way through the field and at one point even passing car owner Tony Stewart, himself a three-time Martinsville winner.
"I would say that I learned pretty early, I was backing up my corner and kind of going it easy and trying to kind of save everything," Patrick said. "I was getting really loose doing it, so once I finally got back to going in hard again and loading the front up like I was before, it seemed like the car got really balanced again.
"I learned that kind of easy, and that's kind of what helped me get more comfortable in race runs."
In a way, Patrick's performance could actually be considered more impressive than what she accomplished in the season-opening Daytona 500 when finished eighth in the "Great American Race."
Unlike Daytona, where Patrick had shown a knack for restrictor-plate racing, she had never taken a lap at Martinsville before Friday's first round of practice. In fact, she admitted Friday morning that she viewed this weekend as a "challenge" and was a bit "overwhelmed" about what was ahead.
Since Daytona, Patrick had finished 39th, 33rd, 28th and 26th in the races preceding Martinsville and had failed to finish on the same lap as the leaders.
But after a rough four-week stretch, Patrick has reason to be happy as she was the highest-finishing driver for Stewart-Haas Racing with Stewart coming home 17th and Ryan Newman -- last year's winner of this race -- being scored in 31st.
"It was just nice to have a good weekend after having so many that weren't good since Daytona," Patrick said. "It was a fun little track. I was told that if it goes well, you'll be like, 'I don't mind this place at all, let's come back', and if it doesn't you don't ever want to see it again."