DARLINGTON, S.C. – Danica Patrick is ready to earn her stripes — probably plenty of them — this weekend at the Southern 500.

Patrick is back in the Sprint Cup series for the first time since the season-opening Daytona 500 and she picked one of the circuit’s most treacherous tracks for her return in Darlington Raceway.

Sprint Cup veterans leave the quirky, egg-shaped oval shaking their heads, let alone rookies unaccustomed to the odd corners, narrow straightaways and walls that attract cars like magnets. Even Patrick’s boss, Tony Stewart, hasn’t won a Sprint Cup race at Darlington.

“Why not start right away with the most difficult tracks?” Patrick said. “If you want to have the most complete season you can, you might as well learn at the hardest race tracks.”

Patrick is sure to have her hands full at Darlington and will no doubt quickly earn her “Darlington stripe” — the worn mark along a car’s right side from continually rubbing against the outside walls — once practice starts Friday for Saturday night’s race.

Patrick plans to lean heavily on Stewart for tips at Darlington, even though Stewart’s lone trip to victory lane there came in the Nationwide Series event in 2008. She has been told, for example, that because the track is so narrow, it is better to let someone pass heading into a corner.

“It’s a confusing sort of racing,” Patrick said.

And one that’s confounded the greatest in NASCAR.