Short track ace?

MARTINSVILLE, VA - MARCH 28:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy.com - Get Found Chevrolet, sits in her car in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 28, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

MARTINSVILLE, VA – MARCH 28: Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy.com – Get Found Chevrolet, sits in her car in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 28, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

MARTINSVILLE, Va.—Restrictor-plate superspeedways aside, Martinsville is arguably Danica Patrick’s best race track.

In fact, the argument, if you can call it that, is short and sweet. Last spring at Martinsville, Patrick posted her best finish at a non-restritor-plate track, 12th.

On Friday at the .526-mile paper-clip-shaped short track, she posted a personal-best in non-restrictor plate qualifying: 10th. Patrick’s previous best “open-motor” qualifying effort was 21st at Atlanta and New Hampshire, both in 2013.

Patrick’s strong performance in time trials was unexpected, given that she had been 29th-fastest in opening practice.

“Just got to expect the unexpected, I guess,” Patrick said after the session in which she advanced to the final 12 in knockout qualifying for the first time. “I think that our practice started off a little bit rough, because you go out with all those cars on the track, I was following another car, and he was not coming up to speed and I ended up getting passed by 15 cars, it felt like, in the first five laps.

“You’re just not really getting up to speed and in a rhythm, so we didn’t really put a lap in at the beginning, and then, in our qualifying runs, I feel like we improved a lot, but we still needed something. That something [crew chief] Tony [Gibson] gave me for qualifying. That’s the difference — then just nailing that lap. I mean, that is qualifying. I just have to get better at it.”

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