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“His mom had my sweatshirt on,” Patrick said. “I think it’s the first time I’ve seen my merchandise on someone’s body. I’m noticing.”

Patrick’s had her share of bumps in the NASCAR road. Her Sprint Cup debut in February was ruined quickly with a second-lap crash and she finished 38th at Daytona.

There was some worry that her No. 10 car _ driven by David Reutimann for Tommy Baldwin Racing in a partnership with Stewart-Haas when Patrick’s not running _ wouldn’t make the Southern 500 field on points and she’d need a fast qualifying time.

But Rueitmann finished 22nd at Talladega last week and the No. 10 moved up to 33rd in owners points, locking it into Saturday night’s race.

Then there was Patrick’s bump of Sam Hornish Jr. on the cool-down lap of last week’s Nationwide event. Patrick was upset Hornish forced her car up the track. The two talked and have cleared up their differences, although NASCAR officials will likely talk with Patrick this week about her actions.

Patrick’s up to 11th in Nationwide points and thinks her time there has seasoned her for her next Sprint Cup try. She will be just the third woman to compete in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington, joining Shawna Robinson, who finished 42nd in 2002, and Janet Guthrie, who was 16th in 1977. Patrick hopes she can bring everything she’s learned so far in NASCAR to last until the end Saturday night.

“Most days, you feel like you’ve picked up some things” to improve, Patrick said. “Sometimes, you think, `Man, that was just a bummer of a day.’ I need to get that experience so there are fewer of those bummer days.”