Is Danica Patrick finally coming along in NASCAR?

I’ll never forget the expression on Danica Patrick’s face before the 2011 IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, when she was signing autographs for sponsors at a 7-Eleven on East Charleston near downtown, and sirens kept wailing, and a guy dressed as a foul-smelling tree asked for her signature.

She looked much more at ease after driving the No. 10 Chevy to a career-best seventh place finish in the NASCAR race at Kansas Saturday night.

That made it two strong races in a row for the First Lady of Speed, who also ran up front for a while at Talladega the week before and even lead a few laps. But that was a restrictor plate race, where driving talent doesn’t count as much.

It counted more at Kansas.

“Chicks rule, huh?” crew chief Tony Gibson told her after the strong run.

“I’ve always believed in myself and with the right situation, a good car, that I can do it,” Ms. Danica said.

They say in auto racing that the only person a driver really has to beat is his or her teammate. Patrick has three of those. She’s not beating Kevin Harvick or Tony Stewart but she is ahead of one of her teammates in Sprint Cup points.

That would be Kurt Busch of Las Vegas, the 2004 series champion.

Danica is 27th in the standings; Kurt is 28th. But he has won a race to pretty much lock up a spot for the NASCAR playoffs. She’s still working on it.

She’s probably still trying to get the image of that guy in the tree suit asking her for an autograph at 7-Eleven, too.

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