Updated at: 04/07/2013 8:05 PM
By HANK KURZ Jr.
(AP) MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Danica Patrick didn’t know what to expect in her first career race at Martinsville Speedway. She surely didn’t expect to carry the banner for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Patrick overcame an early spin that put her a lap down, a long green-flag run that put her another lap down and even some bumping and banging that caused her to send Dale Earnhardt Jr. spinning into the wall.
In the end, she finished 12th.
She even passed her boss, Tony Stewart, with 19 laps to go, and wound up the highest finisher on Stewart’s three-car team. Stewart, a three-time series champion, wound up 17th and Ryan Newman was 31st.
Stewart had joked earlier in the week how it might be funny to see Patrick’s debut at Martinsville, a 0.526-mile oval considered by many drivers the most difficult place to learn to navigate successfully.
"I felt a little funny kind of racing really hard for position there with Tony at the end, and then to get in front of him, that was a little victory for me because he’s so good," Patrick said.
"I’m going to go over to his bus after this and see what he has to say about it," she added.
While battling him, she said, she never thought to yield to the boss.
"No, we were racing for position, so it didn’t cross my mind to let him in," she said. "I went underneath him to go by him. No, all that crossed my mind is that I’d just have to be fair and give him room and run hard, and if I get the spot, great; if I don’t, you lost it to a guy like Tony Stewart."
Patrick said her contact with Earnhardt caused her to make sure he wasn’t angry. It happened when she got bumped from behind by Brian Vickers, and that nudged her into Earnhardt in Turns 3 and 4.
"I wasn’t trying to lose any friends out there, that’s for sure," she said.
All in all, she felt good about her performance, crediting crew chief Tony Gibson for putting her in a good car, even though she went two laps down at one point.
"I feel like that’s almost one of the things I’m most proud of is coming back from two laps down to being on the lead lap and then grabbing a 12th place at the end was good," she said.
She won over at least one competitor, too.
"She came a long way from yesterday," Clint Bowyer said. "She was extremely fast."
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(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)