Patrick keeps improving

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Try it again, get a little better.

The pattern is holding for Danica Patrick in her second NASCAR season. When she goes back to a track for the second time, she has improved every time over her first effort.

Patrick finished a respectable 11th in the Nationwide Series race Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, 11 spots better than where she finished on the 1.5-mile TMS oval one year ago.

"In the end it was a decent result," Patrick said on pit road after the race. "But I think it could have been even better. I just have to work on my restarts. The first two weren't so good and I would lose five or six spots.

"I can't do that. I have to get those down. I need to learn how to better get the car started and how to pick a lane better. That's what I need to work on the most."

Saturday marked the sixth time Patrick has competed at a track for the second time in her two part-time seasons in NASCAR. She's 6-for-6 on improving her results, most of which were dramatically better.

And she's raced three times at Daytona, going from 35th in 2010, 14th in February of this year to 10th in the July Daytona race. She has finished on the lead lap in four of her last five starts.

"An 11th-place finish at this place for someone who hasn't done this much is pretty strong," said Denny Hamlin, who finished second to Trevor Bayne on Saturday while subbing for his suspended teammate, Kyle Busch. "I wasn't around her much, but to me she just looks like an ordinary driver out there.

"I've watched her a lot on TV and it's pretty amazing what she's done. I can tell you she's way better than she was a year ago."

Cup points leader Carl Edwards, who finished third Saturday, agrees with Hamlin's assessment of Patrick.

"I lapped her at one point in the race and it took me a long time to get by her,'' Edwards said. "When I finally got to her, she gave me just the right amount of room. She's definitely come a long way, but I knew that at Montreal [in August] when I bumped her out of the way and she up and bumped me right back. She's a good racer."

In a way, Saturday's race was the first for Patrick as a full-time NASCAR driver. Her full-time IndyCar Series career ended three weeks ago at Las Vegas, the tragic day when Dan Wheldon lost his life.

Patrick donated her purse money ($21,843) Saturday to a trust fund for Wheldon's family.

Patrick will run the last two Nationwide races this season, at Phoenix and Homestead, Fla., before running the entire Nationwide season in 2012.

On Friday, she picked TMS to announce a 10-race Cup schedule next year, starting with the season-opening Daytona 500 -- if she qualifies.

For now, Patrick just wants to be patient and keep learning. She is encouraged about seeing better results every time she returns to a track.

"It makes me excited about the future, because it gets better and better," she said. "The car came home clean today and almost a top-10 finish. A top-10 was my goal, so to come close after a few hiccups out there is OK."

Patrick had one big hiccup on pit road when she had to hit the brakes behind Joe Nemechek as he exited his pit box.

"That's the kind of stuff that happens when you have 43 cars out there," Patrick said. "That was just a mistake. I got caught up on pit-in behind another car."

Patrick said she is slowly is learning all the differences between a stock car and an Indy car.

"This car is just so much better on new tires," she said. "And the way the car reacts around other cars is much different than Indy cars, but I'm getting used to it.

"I'm methodical as a racer. I'm not one of those drivers who barrels in. I'm more a driver who looks at it and says, 'Well, I need to go a little harder next time.'''

Whenever she's had a next time at a track, it's always better.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.