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Patrick hoping to just finish her first Bristol race

March 18, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Second-year driver is in awe of the track's layout and unpredictableness of race

Usually even when she's visiting a NASCAR track for the first time, Danica Patrick figures she can wait until she climbs into her race car to drive on it before really checking it out.

That wasn't the case when she arrived in town to drive for the first time at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"I got here [Thursday] late in the afternoon, and walked out to the track. Normally, I don't do that. Usually you just need to get out and drive the track, but I thought I'd better see this place first -- just to sleep on the visual of it," Patrick said Friday.

"I don't care how many races you've seen on TV or how many in-car camera angles you've watched, it doesn't give you the real perspective and depth you get when you're actually there. So I got out there. I even had one of the pace cars take me around the track. Justin Allgaier was nice enough to jump in the car with me. ... It was nice to be able to see it. And sleeping on it again [Friday night] will help some more -- but I've kind of wondered how they run at any short track, let alone one like this."

Patrick is coming off a career-best fourth-place finish in the Nationwide race at Las Vegas that also was the highest finish for a female in history for any of NASCAR's top three national touring series. She quickly dispelled the notion Friday that she's likely to match that kind of finish in her first trip to Bristol, pointing out that she was running Vegas for the second time and benefitted from the experience of running there a year earlier.

"Bristol is a new track and definitely a different kind of track," Patrick said. "For me, it's just about finishing the race. Just doing my best and progressing through the race.

"That's why I think I've done better when I go back to a track for the second time. I feel like I've figured out quite a bit more out than I knew before. That's what I'll be aiming to do here -- learn throughout the race. It would be nice to get another good finish and it's definitely a possibility, but I'm not expecting it. Probably even a top-20 would be something I would be OK with here, just because it is so different and so new. My expectations are definitely reeled in for this one."

Asked what Patrick should expect during her first run at the famed .533-mile short track, fellow driver Ryan Newman smiled at the question before answering.

"Bristol," he said.

By that, he explained, "It's different every time, first of all. It can go a lot of green-flag runs and a lot of single-file racing or it can be crazy and it can get randomly crazier. She proved a lot of things in Vegas. If I think back to my first time at Bristol, I don't necessarily remember it but I know there have been a lot of different things that have happened every time I've been here."

Mark Martin, on the other hand, said that he expects Patrick to be able to build on her outstanding finish in Las Vegas.

"With the progress that I have seen, I think that this is going to be not a major shocker. Just the fact that the mile-per-hour speeds are down are going to help her," he said. "It makes controlling and sliding the car a little [easier]. It delays that a little bit. It gives you more time.

"When you are doing 190 miles an hour and the car steps out, it snaps around pretty quick and a lot of times it will snap and try to get away from you. Here, going 120 miles an hour is a much more controllable slide. I think she'll get along with it better than you expect. She is showing a lot of progress, looks pretty good in practice. Things seem to be going well. They are headed in the right direction."

Soon she will be headed in the other direction, as in back to the IndyCar Series. After participating in the first four Nationwide events, she will focus primarily on her IndyCar efforts following this weekend until November. She is not scheduled to run any NASCAR events in April and May and will make only once-a-month appearances from June until November, when she'll run the final three races on the Nationwide schedule.

But first, there is Saturday's Scott's EZ Seed 300 at Bristol.

"Once this car gets right, I think I'll be fine," Patrick said after the second of three Nationwide practices Friday. "I'm not that happy, but not out-of-control, out-of-the-ballpark [upset] about it, either. Once we get it right, I think it'll be really good. ... Ultimately at the end of the day, it's about the fact that I don't have as high expectations here just because it is so new and so different and I've never run here before."