2018: It’s The ‘Danica Double’ And Done

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 18 2017

Danica Patrick said her tenure as a full-time driver ends on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Get ready for two more doses of “Danicamania.”

NASCAR free-agent Danica Patrick plans to end her star-crossed racing career in May 2018 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of her historic fourth-place start/finish in the 2005 Indianapolis 500. Patrick eventually rode that wave of gender-breaking popularity _ dubbed “Danicamania” _ into a fulltime NASCAR Cup Series career that will conclude with Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

This will be my last season as a fulltime driver,” Patrick announced through tears during a press conference following Friday’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at HMS. Patrick, who has driven for Stewart-Haas Racing since 2013, qualified her No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion 25th later Friday afternoon at 170.951 mph.

“I’m not feeling like I was pushed into this…I feel like I should be doing this,” said Patrick, 35, who has dealt with messy sponsorship issues throughout the 2017 season. “I feel like this is where my life should be headed. And sometimes we just get kind of nudged there. Sometimes it’s big nudges and sometimes it’s little.

“I’m not totally done. I’m going to do the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 next year, and I’m really excited about that. I think it’s going to be a great way to cap it off.”

Patrick’s “Danica Double” will consist of NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway and the 102nd Indianapolis 500 on May 27 at IMS.

Danica Patrick will pay a return visit to Indy cars and the Indy 500 next season. (File photo courtesy of the IndyCar Series)

Patrick, a native of Roscoe, Ill., made seven career starts in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” from 2005-2011, setting a number of milestones for woman drivers at IMS. Her best finish (third in 2009) and start (fourth as a rookie in 2005) continue to stand as records for female drivers in the Indy 500. Patrick also has led 29 laps during her 500 career, including 19 during her electrifying debut for team-owner/1986 Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal in 2005. Both remain race records for a female driver.

Patrick’s current Cup career for the team co-owned by retired three-time series champion Tony Stewart and businessman Gene Haas includes five consecutive starts in the Big Machine Brickyard 400 at IMS.

Patrick did not reveal the team with which she plans to make her final Indianapolis 500 start, but a likely candidate is Andretti Autosport. Patrick scored her lone INDYCAR victory in the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi while driving for Andretti Green Racing, the predecessor of Andretti Autosport. Team-owner Michael Andretti fielded NASCAR Cup regular Kurt Busch, also of SHR, in a one-off Indy 500 ride in 2014. Andretti also gave Fernando Alonso, a two-time Formula One World Driving Champion, his first oval-track start in last May’s Indy 500.

Patrick became the first (and to-date only) woman to win an IndyCar Series race with her victory on April 20, 2008 in Japan. At the time, she joined three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Shirley Muldowney as the only female winners in a top-tier American motorsports series.

One cue Friday afternoon, IMS’ top official began marketing Patrick’s return to the Speedway. “We’re glad Danica plans to return to the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil next May,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said in a statement. “Her final career start will make what’s already shaping up to be a terrific Month of May even more interesting for our fans.

“It’s also fitting that Danica is wrapping up her career at the place and in the race where she became a household name and captured the world’s attention in 2005 _ the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500. We’re looking forward to seeing her back in an Indy car next May alongside all of the tremendous drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

Patrick’s first Cup start with SHR in February 2013 was an almost-too-convenient-to-be-

Danica Patrick will take one more shot at winning at Daytona International Speedway next year. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

believed pole-winning run for the Daytona 500. She became the first female driver to win a Cup pole en route to an eighth-place finish that remains the highest for a woman in “The Great American Race.” Sunday’s race at HMS will be her 190th start in NASCAR’s premier touring series. Patrick is winless in Cup with that one pole and seven top-10 finishes.

An edited transcript of Patrick’s presser at HMS follows, beginning with her opening statement:

DANICA PATRICK: “My sister (Brooke) said I wasn’t supposed to get emotional. I said I wouldn’t. But I’m grateful for all the opportunities. I’m thankful for Dale and Kelly (Earnhardt) and Bob Parsons from GoDaddy for getting me into NASCAR. Thank you to Tony and Gene. I have something really exciting to tell you! I feel like this is where my life should be headed. And sometimes we just get kind of nudged there. Sometimes it’s big

Danica Patrick won fans over but never won a race in NASCAR’s Cup Series. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

nudges and sometimes it’s little. But definitely I was faced with (sponsorship) situations (including a lawsuit) at the beginning of the year that I had never faced before. I had never had sponsor issues. It made me think about things and so I’m excited about the next phase. Trust me. I feel like I need to turn my chair, clear this shit up, turn back around and tell you what I want to tell you that I’m really excited about.”

QUESTION: Have you decided which teams you’ll be with at Daytona and Indy?

DANICA PATRICK: “We are…this is not the first time that I’ve thought of this. I didn’t decide yesterday and then come decide to tell you all. We’re down the line with different facets of moving forward but nothing is final yet. Hopefully it will be soon. Things are definitely not set.”

QUESTION: What made you want to return to the Indy 500?

DANICA PATRICK: “I never thought I would do it. I really didn’t. I always thought in my head never but I never said never because I know better. Thank God, right? Here I am. It was really a conversation with my agent. We ran through so many different ideas. Different teams. Different scenarios. Just do these races. Just do this race. I have been much more in flow with it. Like I have not poked and prodded and asked many questions. I wanted this to all just unfold naturally and what was going to be was going to be.

“As I said to many of you years ago, if it’s not going to get better I don’t want to do it because it’s not fun. Here I am. It’s not fun. My urgency to push to keep doing everything is just not really there. So if something really enticing didn’t come up I wasn’t going to push for something else. I don’t like to run people down the pier if I don’t mean it. So, he (her agent) called and said, ’What about finishing up at Daytona?’ I don’t know where it came from but then out of my mouth came, ‘What about Indy?’ I don’t even know what I said it necessarily but it was really the first idea that got me really excited. That was it. He said, ‘I would love for you to do both.’ And I was like, ‘Well, let’s do it!’ And that was it. I’m still surprised. So that’s how it came about. It came from my heart and I think it’s going to be awesome.”

QUESTION: Was there an option for you to do some media work? And what about this decision was most difficult?

DANICA PATRICK: “The difficulty is that it’s (NASCAR Cup) super-competitive. I mean, it’s twice the field of Indy cars. It’s 40 cars instead of 20, basically. The cars make a big difference. I feel like there’s a lot out of your control as a driver and that’s frustrating. I tried every approach I could to figure it out how to make the car go fast. Do I push people? Do I let them do their job? Do I question them? Do I ask for other things? I tried every approach.

“All that ended up happening is that I lost my crew chief along with Tony Gibson and I didn’t end up wanting that to happen. So I was like, ‘Shoot, nothing really works.’ So here I am. I tried every different route and it just didn’t go as I hoped. Just a lot of things out of your control as a driver.”

QUESTION: Again, what about transitioning to a career in TV or the media?

DANICA PATRICK: “TV or media. Well, I haven’t gone down that road because I knew that was…I think we’ve heard I could do TV. Right now, no. Never say never. But that really doesn’t interest me. It’s a really wide and deep schedule as you know and that means that you have to do a lot of it. And then you have to do meetings and prepare and it’s a lot of work in itself. I admire everyone that’s said yes to that job because I think it’s valuable.

“I really love that drivers are going into that role because it creates a lot of authenticity from the booth about what’s happening on the racetrack. So I’m glad for the drivers. Obviously with (former crew chief) Steve Letarte (on NBC Sports Network), that’s great information up there. I think it’s good that they do it. But not right now for me.”

QUESTION: Do you anticipate getting back into an Indy car will be like riding the proverbial bike?

DANICA PATRICK: “Yeah…you said bicycle and I’m like, ‘It’s just going to be like riding a bike going 240 (mph). It won’t be a problem. Speed wobbles and all, right?’ I think it will take a little bit of adjusting. It’s different for sure. I don’t feel like today that I’m a worse driver that I was when I drove Indy cars. Hopefully I’m a better driver. It will take a little bit of acclimating but I think we’ll cross that bridge when we get a little bit closer.

“Hopefully there is a fair amount time before that. I would like to get into a car before I get to Indy. I even wondered do I have to do Rookie Orientation again? I think you…I have to do a day or something? I definitely have a level of fear and nervousness about it. Just a little bit because it’s been so long. I believe that I will catch on and remember quickly.”

QUESTION: Are Daytona and Indy really going to be it? You always say, “Never say never.”

DANICA PATRICK: “You kind of answered your own question. I ‘never say never’ but that is my plan. After Indy that’s the end.”

QUESTION: Sometimes I’ve thought that you didn’t get a fair shake from your peers…

DANICA PATRICK: “Sometimes they’re (expletives)…”

QUESTION: So, is that how you feel about the majority of your peers?

DANICA PATRICK: “I think I just said it. Some of them are great. I think that every driver faces that. You have drivers that you like and get along with out there and some that you don’t like. Some of them overlap quite and bit and others are not the same. So I think there are drivers that I get along with just fine out there that other people have issues with. I think that’s across the board. There’s always that.

“I think that I deal with a little more struggles on a car-to-car basis than everyone. It took me a really long time to say that. I’ve never really felt different. If I can pass them I can pass them. With the stock cars the closing rates aren’t so quick so I think it kind of showed up more and more over time in stock cars because you can be more defensive a little bit than in an Indy car, when you just drive around them and get a really big run. Runs there are just much different.”

QUESTION: Would you want to run for the same team in both the Daytona 500 and Indy 500?

DANICA PATRICK: “That’s an option I suppose but it doesn’t have to be. I think that when we’re talking about Daytona, it is what it is. There’s a lot of luck involved. To some degree that doesn’t seem as critical. In Indy car I think that it’s a little more but I think there are probably a little bit more options as well. A little bit more flexibility there. I think it would make it easier but I don’t think that it’s an absolute necessity.”

QUESTION: So, you’re looking at a few Cup teams for Daytona?

DANICA PATRICK: “Right. That’s not my job though. Again, there are conversations going on but nothing is final right now.”

QUESTION: While you’re not completely going away yet, how do you want to be remembered during your fulltime career?

DANICA PATRICK: “What I’ve always wanted is to just to be remembered as a great driver, then remembered as a girl. I don’t care if you remember me as a girl. Of course I am, it’s obvious. But to be remembered as a great driver. That’s it.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 18 2017
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