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It’s 500 And Done For Danica

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 27 2018

Danica Patrick says this is it for her: She will ride into retirement Sunday at Indy. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

INDIANAPOLIS – She’s made her own way, Danica Patrick says with gusto in her latest TV commercial. And at the conclusion of the 102nd edition of the Indianapolis 500, she will make her own way out of the venue and the event that launched “Danicamania” 13 years ago.

That will happen, Danica said, even if she wins “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“It isn’t uncommon for someone to say, ‘Are you sure you’re done?’ I am sure I’m done,” Patrick said during her final Media Day scrum at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I can’t think of a better way to be done than if I win. I’m good. I’m totally good.”

Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series event at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Danica Patrick met with the media for a final time this week – unless, that is, she wins Sunday’s Indy 500. (RacinToday photo by Martha Fairris)

is billed as Patrick’s final start of a star-crossed motorsports career that, in the rearview, spiked as a rookie in the 89th edition of the big race in 2005. Turns out that truly was “The Biggest Spectacle in Greatness.”

Her fourth-place starting and finishing positions from ‘05 remain the highest by a woman driver in the event’s history. Danica also led 19 laps that day_ first woman to do so at IMS _ before Englishman Dan Wheldon passed her for the point on Lap 194 of the 200 en route to Victory Circle.

Patrick also finished third in the 2009 Indy 500, still the best result for a woman competitor at IMS.

A career switch to NASCAR’s Xfinity and Cup series beginning in 2011 produced a highlight here or there _ most notably her pole-winning effort for the 2013 season-opening Daytona 500, stock car racing’s Super Bowl. But the majority of her Cup tenure spent in very competitive Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolets and Fords produced a best result of sixth at the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2014, accompanied by consecutive point finishes of 27-28-24-23-28 from 2013 to 2017.

Patrick bid adieu to her Cup career with a 35th-place/DNF result in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 in a one-off drive with Premium Motorsports.

So, here she was Thursday at IMS, dealing with wave upon wave of media, just like in the olden days. Dressed in black Chevrolet polo shirt and white short-shorts, Danica was upbeat, fit, tanned, fully comfortable if not comfortably full of herself.

At least some of that comfort level can be attributed to an almost glitch-free Month of May, with the exception of an electrical gremlin that surfaced during Friday’s final Carb Day practice. She will start seventh in the 33-car field after completing her four-lap/10-mile qualifying run at an average of 228.090 mph as a participant in last Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout. In comparison, team-owner/driver Ed Carpenter, who is fielding Danica’s bright green No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet, qualified on-pole for the third time at 229.618 mph in his No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy.

But Danica’s effort this month after a six-year open-wheel absence from IMS truly impressed one of the Speedway’s superstars.

“I say one thing, guys,” said three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevy. “Not enough people give enough credit to her.  She’s not only stayed away so many years from Indy car, and come back, not only to be in a race, but to be in the Fast Nine, it shows that she’s an amazing talent.  She opens so many doors for so many young ladies, young girls, to become a race car driver. Especially now, the area that women power (MeToo), they have the equal to fight with the guys.  I tell you what, in auto racing, it couldn’t be more equal.  She is the one that opened the door for them. 

“Courageous for her, as well, making the decision to stop. I don’t know if I have that

Danica Patrick at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

courage to do it.  Good for her.  I will try and make it as hard as I can her last 500. For sure, it’s an honor to be sharing the track with her all the years that I did.”

An edited transcript of Danica’s presser _ including comments on life after racing, hosting the ESPYs this summer and the idea of long, cold winters spent in Green Bay, Wis., follows: 

QUESTION:  What are your thoughts at the start of your last Media Day?

DANICA PATRICK: “Won’t miss that. The saying from last year when I started really knowing what I was going to do was behind the scenes there would be a lot of ‘won’t miss that’s.’  It’s my way of going, I’m making the right decision. I’ll miss it a little.”

QUESTION: One of the things you consistently said as your NASCAR career wound down was you weren’t having fun. Your car is good here, and you seem to be having fun, right?

DANICA PATRICK: “Yeah, I mean, I think there’s definitely a level of comfort, familiarity, that feels good.  Obviously the car is good. There’s a lot of people that believe in me over here.  I’m not saying they didn’t believe in me over there. Look, the car is really good. Ed was very welcoming. I don’t regret any of the moves I’ve made, though.”

QUESTION: Do you regret anything in your life? 

DANICA PATRICK: “No, I don’t.  Unless I ate something I wasn’t supposed to, then I regret that.

“One of my favorite statistics is the fact that I’m one of a short list of drivers that have led both the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500. I couldn’t have that if I didn’t do it. There were some high points in NASCAR.  It wasn’t a complete failure by any means.  I mean, having a Daytona 500 pole is cool.  I’ll remember some of those other races that were big for me as far as how it went.  Maybe they weren’t wins or they weren’t vying for the win and not getting it, but they were great for me.  I’ll remember those things. 

“Also coming back and having this be my final race, it wouldn’t have been possible if I would have finished up in a normal way. Normally, usually when you choose your retirement, you finish up at the end of a season. I would have finished up in NASCAR. It would have been over at Homestead (Fla).  That’s how it would have gone. 

“Also the fact that it kind of felt like it wasn’t really finished properly, that’s what led me to think, ‘What else can I do to finish it up?’ That also has brought me back here. It wouldn’t be so dramatic if I wasn’t gone for seven years.  I’m sure I would probably have a few less people standing here. It’s kind of made the story what the story is. I’m just grateful I’m in a position where I have a fast car. I can see Indy on the way out the way I saw it on the way in, hopefully.

“This is my favorite month. This is my favorite race. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the most success here, I feel.  If I were to go back to Indy car fulltime, then it’s all the stuff that I’m not remembering right now because they’re not part of this month. I’m good. I’m good to end with a smile at a special place like this.”

QUESTION: What’s it like to have a capable horse in this race? 

DANICA PATRICK: “Obviously, that makes a big difference in the way that it feels in my heart.  Like I said, that’s why I said I would do it, is because I was going to get the opportunity to put really time and effort into it. I wasn’t just going to be going back and forth, splitting time. That to me was never appealing.  After year two when I didn’t do it, I didn’t think that I would ever come back and do it.

“I’ve had so many great moments here. I respect this place, the cars, the speed, the drivers so much.  I wasn’t going to come back just to do it. But doing it like this allows me the time to put the right amount of focus in necessary to be successful.  Not only just from a time standpoint but from an energy standpoint.” 

QUESTION: You always seem so cool, calm and collected about this. What kind of emotions come with your very last race as a driver here in Indianapolis?

DANICA PATRICK:  “I don’t know.  I haven’t done it yet. I mean, for me, if it’s just me, I go up to the car, get in, I think there’s going to be emotion, but I think what’s going to be really difficult is when there’s so much emotion around me.  I’m already going to write down a list of the people that are allowed in pit lane.  That’s it.  My dad is going to well-up.  He already does anyway.  He already has this month and all I’ve done is practice and qualify.

“There is going to be emotion from people around me.  That’s going to amp mine up.  At the end of the day I respect that part of the process of retiring, emotion, things like that. It’s not going to do me any good to get in the car like that. I want to keep the space as clear as possible to just stay focused and stay calm and confident.  We can cry afterwards.”

QUESTION: Do you feel like you’ve always been preparing for the next step in your life?

DANICA PATRICK: “I have this real habit of taking on challenges. The ESPYs, right? (Patrick will be the first woman to host the sports award program in July). Things like that. Going to NASCAR. Driving Indy cars.  Moving to England. I just have a habit for pushing myself to uncomfortable spaces, making them comfortable for me.  At least just making them comfortable enough to be able to manage. 

“As an example, I went bungee jumping a long while back, like 10 years.  I’m super-scared of heights.  I’m still scared of heights. But I just like to know that if I want to do something, I am brave enough and confident enough to do it.  That doesn’t mean I’m not still scared.  That doesn’t mean it’s not still something that’s easy to me afterwards.  I just like to know I can get past the fear if I have to.”

QUESTION: How much different is the Verizon IndyCar Series now from the one you left after 2011? 

DANICA PATRICK: “Other than the fact that the group that I race with is all getting much more gray, the fact that I don’t know half the drivers now, other than that…I mean, there’s a lot of familiarity. I feel like we’re coming to a place that’s all about repetition of history. I think this is probably the place that I would find the least amount of change, right?”

QUESTION: What will be key for you as far as staying up-front, and having a chance with this new universal chassis aero kit?

DANICA PATRICK: “I think the key is going to be to have a car that turns in traffic, and also alone. I don’t think it’s going to be all that easy to keep the car turning for the whole run.  Yeah, I think that’s going to be the trick. If your car will turn, you have a shot at having a really good day.”

QUESTION: When you leave here after the race, what will your life be like?

DANICA PATRICK: “I don’t know. I’m not there yet. I mean, I haven’t raced since February. I’ve taken vacations. I’ve worked on all my other businesses. I’ve been preparing for this.  This has been a lot of work.

“Yeah, but I make waffles on Sundays now. I have a thing on Sundays. That’s pretty fun. In the summer, there’s like farmers market.  I can’t wait for that. I mean, there’s going to be probably some new stuff that I don’t know yet. The one thing that I am definitely looking forward to less of is less stress. Last weekend was awesome at the end of it all because it went well with qualifying, but I was nervous for 95 percent of that weekend.  That’s uncomfortable. 

“Again, like I said, I tend to sign up for things that are uncomfortable just to test myself.  I’m OK with less of that.  I’m OK with transitioning into other things, finding a little bit of happiness and joy each day, less colorization of emotions. I’m ready for that.”

QUESTION: So, what are your emotions as the end of this career draws near?

DANICA PATRICK: “I’m nervous, of course. I was sitting down eating breakfast this morning.  My dad loves to talk about racing for sure. I haven’t talked to him much about anything. I don’t know why. It’s just that it’s been such a fast-paced time here, I’ve had so much to do. I was kind of sitting there.  Plus I don’t want to hear his opinion, to be honest. 

“I was like, ‘Dad, what do you think the chances are?  Do you think I got a shot?’ I obviously know I have a shot, but let’s talk real, like father-daughter.  ‘What have you seen out there? Dad, tell me what you’ve seen.’

“I have a bad reference for the closing rate.  For me, it’s the distance from me to the car in front, I got so used to the NASCAR distances, I even look at five back or 10 back, look in my mirror. I’m like, I don’t think it’s five back, I think that’s 15 back.  Maybe it’s just like a metaphor for the distance.  Anyway, I’m just asking him what he really thinks.

“I’m also asking him because I know there’s a chance. I’ve been saying the last few days there’s a difference between the beginning when I signed up for it; I was hopeful it would go well. And there’s a difference between where it is now, which is having tested, qualified, gotten into race mode and gone. Things are pretty good.  Now it’s not just a hope, it’s more of a reality that I’ve really got a shot at it. 

“At the end of the day if Miss Indianapolis decides that it’s my day…”

QUESTION: If you do well Sunday what are the chances of you coming back?

DANICA PATRICK: “None. There’s none.”

QUESTION:  Have you been in traffic enough this month to feel comfortable in the car?

DANICA PATRICK:  “I think I’ve been in the worst of traffic. Partly because at first it was a level of comfort.  You go out and you feel how much gap you want, don’t worry about cars behind you, go at the back of the pack. It’s the worst place to be. If you’re within the first few cars, it seems not too bad. I’ve been in those positions as couple of times.  When you’re 10 back, 15 back, I can’t get close. It’s a disaster.

“I think it’s good because it’s put me in the most difficult position possible to be critical of the car, what I need. It’s maybe not quite as inspiring. I’m also very much in question as to where we all really do stack up in traffic because I know that everyone says it.  When I’m talking to Tony Kanaan, he’s like, ‘I haven’t passed a car all month.’  This is qualifying weekend.  It’s really hard to pass. 

“I think in practice on Monday he passed three or four cars in front of me. I know he’s passed some cars now.  That’s the question mark _ how many cars in front of you were there, how good is it in traffic, did you come out on new tires, are they on second-run tires?”

QUESTION: Have you considered what it will be like if nobody wants to interview you for a month or two months?

DANICA PATRICK: “I did say the other day that I think there will be a couple of things lost. If I had to pick the ego thing that I’ll lose is, my ego is going to have to cope with the sort of new not being the center of attention as often, right?  That will be the ego shot. I acknowledge that.  But I understand it’s also fake, right?  It’s not what’s going to make me happy.  If you rely on someone else to make you happy _ you being interested in talking to me _ I’m not going to be successful most of the time. I can’t tell you what to do.  Your happiness has to come from another place. 

“But I acknowledge it.  I know it’s going to be less attention, less spotlight.  At least until July is over with the ESPYs, then I literally will have a spotlight on me on stage. That is coming. 

“Then on the other side of things, as far as the things I’ll miss from an emotional standpoint _ that feeling of success when you really put yourself out there and you work really hard for something, there’s a lot on the line, you’re able to execute. That’s amazing. 

This last weekend in qualifying, the natural competitor in me was like, ‘We should have trimmed more,’ I’m thinking about what he we could have done. Those are tough things to come by in the natural world as far as ordinary activities.  These are extraordinary things, we’re going 225 miles an hour. 

“I know that this will also be difficult, too. But I’m OK with both of those. I’ve never had to have the spotlight. I don’t care if someone doesn’t know who I am. I really don’t.  Just like when someone says, ‘Aren’t you famous?’ I say, ‘I’m only famous if you think I’m famous.’  I think that’s how it works anyway.  As far as less pressure, I’m ready for less pressure.  So I think I’m ready.” 

QUESTION: Do you feel coming back to INDYCAR for this one race has been easier given the difference in handling and setup between the two different kinds of cars?

DANICA PATRICK:  “I mean, I don’t think it’s possible to have gone through the last five years fulltime in stock cars and not have learned things. I learned about dynamics of cars, grip levels, handling.  You’re always picking little things up. 

“Perhaps there are things I picked up in stock car racing that will apply in areas of an Indy car that weren’t there before.  They are quite different.  I think those things would be subtle.  It’s always good to expand your comfort zone.  Indy car has expanded my comfort zone.  Stock cars did, too.  They’re kind of two different beasts.”

QUESTION:  What’s it like to see Ed, the hometown hero, on-pole heading into this race? 

DANICA PATRICK: “I mean, I had confidence that I was making the right choice with Ed Carpenter’s team.  Of course, I look really smart now.  Their cars are really fast. I’m impressed with how Ed is able to manage being a team-owner and being a driver at the same time.  He does a really good job with that.  We were together on the sort of business side of things before I got here.  He’s been able to transition into the driver mode really easily, too, be very supportive.  Whatever I need, he’s ready.  I sent him a message last week, telling him ‘thank you’ for giving me a good car.  He replied with, ‘I’d give you the same chance we had.’ 

“That’s true. You cannot hide if a car is not fast at Indy. He absolutely did what he said he would do.”

QUESTION: Given all the on-camera time you’ve had over the years, if you wanted that attention back, do you ever see yourself doing some big media project?

DANICA PATRICK: “The things that motivate me now, I got a feel of that, a glimpse into that with my book “Pretty Intense.”  Being able to help me and empower them, it’s just really cool. I feel like I don’t need to go do something to have attention. I don’t need to go to a show to read a prompter, that’s it, to be on TV and have people care about me on some level. 

“I want to do things that help other people. Look, I’m fortunate enough that I have a big platform. If that comes in the format of doing something on camera, so be it. It might be books, a speaking tour. There’s many different ways to do that. The platform then of course is the platform, right? From that standpoint, something like that might happen. Even I’ve said many times I want to have a cooking show.  I keep going around and around in my head with different ideas what I want it to be like. More recent ones are like, ‘How can we make this more impactful?’  There’s simple cooking, but it’s a half tablespoon of that.  That’s not deep enough. 

“Anything I do moving forward, I want to have some depth and reach into people’s hearts, into themselves, to try to help people, empower them to make better choices not only with food, but everything.  I think that’s just one step, one piece of the puzzle of becoming the best you possibly can. I can see some of that moving forward, but not because I want to be on TV, but because I want to help.”

QUESTION:  When you look at the totality of your motorsports career, what are you proudest of? 

DANICA PATRICK: “Probably still having friends from high school that I love to hang out with.  Lots are coming to the race. 

“Anyway, just making an impact on people’s lives, having the ability to make an impact on people’s lives, is really powerful. I know I was just kind of talking about that. It took a little self-reflection because it’s almost like doing these things are therapy for me because you’re asking me these interesting questions, they might not be things I really ever thought of before.  Simple ones in the beginning…’How do you feel about being a role model? ‘

“I don’t know, I haven’t put any thought to that yet.  It gets your mind going, ‘What do I think about that?’  What do I say to somebody if they’re like, ‘How did you get to where you are, what do I do, give me something inspirational?’  It’s my story.  It might not be conventional, but I’m not. It doesn’t even have to be complicated.

“The ability to affect people and inspire people is really powerful. I’ve never overlooked it.  I’ve never said I didn’t ask for it and I don’t want it. I honor it and try to do a good job with it.” 

QUESTION:  So, you’ve found out a lot of good things about yourself that you wouldn’t have learned if you were just a workaday person by dealing with the national media?

DANICA PATRICK: “Yeah, it’s good. I have a love relationship with the media. I’m not scared of you guys.  I’m not.  Look, if you write a bad article, there’s things in it that are not true, I’m happy to call them out, but I’m not scared to talk to you.  I’m also not scared to call you out. 

“It doesn’t happen that often.  But the media has been amazing for me. It’s part of the package.  It’s part of what made me who I am today.  Like this is not a problem.  I’m not dreading a media availability.  Now, they’re tiring because I’m really thinking about your questions.  But I don’t mind it, it’s fine. It’s therapy.  Maybe I’ll miss you guys, too.  I really will.  I’ll miss you guys.” 

QUESTION: What are you going to be doing a year from now?

DANICA PATRICK: “It’s amazing. I’m so excited. I have nothing to do. It’s fantastic. Actually, Month One won’t be like that.  First two months are dedicated to getting ready for the ESPYs.  After that it will slow down a lot. 

“I’m thinking I’m going to have plenty of time to write a cookbook in Green Bay. “

QUESTION: How much does being with ‘the right team, the right car,’ play in any driver’s success?

DANICA PATRICK: “Look, you see that in anything. I mean, in NASCAR you see it.  You see somebody drop into a car first year, you think, ‘Oh, my gosh, they’re amazing.’  They’re probably in a good car.  Then what happened? They forgot how to drive for a couple years, then they remembered how to drive? You see it in NASCAR.  You see it in INDYCAR.  You see it anywhere.  At this level, everybody can do it, right?  You didn’t get here because you just decided to try it.”

QUESTION: What was it like qualifying under the series’ two-day format, ending with the Fast Nine? 

DANICA PATRICK: “I was nervous, for sure.  It’s either going to be easy or really, really hard. That’s how it goes. I don’t really remember this being quite so critical when I used to be here, but just the balance itself, whether it’s understeering or oversteering, just that balance itself seems like as the downforce comes off gets really finicky. It seems finicky anyway, but that seemed to be the one thing that you had to manage really well in qualifying trim. 

“You’re going to have to be flat, yet it won’t turn, or it’s snapping sideways.  You have to have some respect for the speed. You’re turning in at 237 miles an hour without lifting.  You can’t ignore that. 

“I was nervous.  Of course, I wanted to do well.  Remember those pictures from my first qualifying in 2005, leaning against the tires? I felt sick. That was obviously my first year, but I had been racing Indy cars all year. Anytime a lot is on the line, it’s nerve-wracking. “

QUESTION: When do you think you reached this level of contentment we’re seeing here?

DANICA PATRICK:  “When I met the Dalai Lama. I read the book called “From Here to Enlightenment” before I went. I think it’s a transition, right?  Your own spiritual evolution, it seems like all of a sudden it happens, then you look back, ‘Oh, no, it’s kind of been happening for a long time.’

“It’s probably been four or five years of it.  Sometimes it’s tough things that make you go there.  You’ve got to figure out ways to cope.  But I honestly have a really good group of girlfriends.  We’re all very open and very honest with each other.” 

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 27 2018
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