Danica Patrick Faces Another NASCAR Sprint Cup Challenge At Atlanta

A few laps after Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth were involved in a helmet-tossing incident at last week's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol, Danica Patrick considered doing the same thing to Regan Smith.

Patrick, who was defying expectations (including her own) by running on the lead lap at Bristol in the latter stages of the race, was wrecked by Smith. She contemplated giving Smith the finger as she stood on on the apron, but decided just to wave her index finger at him instead.

"Fans love that stuff," Patrick said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where she'll compete in Sunday night's Cup race. "They were cheering like heck for me to do something. I wanted to give (Smith) the finger but I've heard that they fine you for that. So I wagged it instead. We could have had a lead-lap finish and a top-20 night."

Patrick believes her success at Bristol is a testament to her progress as a developing NASCAR driver. Her practice times early in the weekend are routinely at the bottom of the charts, but her feedback and diligence has her faster each time she takes to the track. Patrick has admitted to having low goals for her Sprint Cup Series starts but is satisfied with her performance as the race progresses.

"In the Nationwide Series, I don't have goals because they would be much higher than what actually happens," Patrick said. "You never know what to expect when you take that final step to the Sprint Cup level, but it's refreshing to see the car come around, make passes and get faster."

Patrick again practiced near the bottom of the charts on Friday, turning in the 42nd-fastest time out of 47 cars. This weekend's Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races will be her first at the 1.5-mile speedway.

She attributes the lack of speed early in the weekend to her car's setup. Patrick prefers to start her weekend on the tight side, with crew chief Greg Zipadelli progressively loosening up the car as the weekend advances.

"I was having all kinds of fun out there this afternoon," Patrick said. "I felt really loose the whole time so it wasn't until the very last run that I feel like we tightened it up enough to be a little more aggressive on the throttle."

Atlanta is the fifth of a planned 10-race schedule intended to introduce Patrick to the Sprint Cup Series. Her remaining races include Chase races at Chicagoland, Kansas, Dover, Texas and Phoenix.

"This is why Tony [Stewart] picked these tracks," Patrick said. "These are important races at the end of the season. They are longer races, races that change from day-to-night, and those are the most important things for me to learn right now."

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