Danica Patrick strolled into Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a sunburn, a surprise gift from an afternoon spent in Green Bay, reading books while lying in the grass with boyfriend Aaron Rodgers. She's done with racing. "There's a difference between the beginning when I signed up (to run the Indy 500 one last time) and I was hopeful that it would go well and where it is now - having tested, qualified and gotten into race mode".
Patrick's 14-year run through the top levels of American motorsports will end Sunday with the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
"I think all of my life I've kind of felt like you're only as good as your last race". "What do I say to somebody if they're like, 'How did you get to where you are?" I obviously know I have a shot, but let's talk real, like father-daughter.
"I can promise you I'll be quiet", Patrick said. Like, people have always asked me that. I hope she enjoys her last race here. At the Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, Patrick burst into tears seconds after sitting down for her press conference, explaining it was her last full-time season in the sport.
It's a career that took her from running go-karts as a kid, to going off on her own as a teenager to race in England, to taking Indy by storm as a rookie for Bobby Rahal's team in 2005 when she became the first woman to lead laps in the race, to becoming the only woman to win an IndyCar race (Motegi, Japan, in 2008), to moving to NASCAR, where she became the only woman to win the pole for, and lead, the Daytona 500. She never won a race, never scored a top-five finish. From the third row on the grid, she'll pilot the No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing for one more race before retiring from the sport.
Patrick's latest change is no different.
Patrick, 36, will have a shot to improve her career-best third-place finish (2009) in the Indy 500 - also the record for female drivers.
Patrick is not a quitter, though.
Castroneves is part of the powerhouse Team Penske stable which boasts an all-star lineup of IndyCar Series champions.
Daytona was merely OK. But Indy? Well, this is where she sparkles, and landing a ride capable of winning the race was important.
For a while Patrick's racy photo shoots, including appearances in two Sports Illustrated swim suit editions, drew as much attention as her driving. Carpenter is on the pole, and three of his entries are a real threat to challenge the quartet of Chevys from Roger Penske.
The trailblazer said she will remember her career as "exciting" and "as being hard". "It wasn't a complete failure by any means".
"I don't really know about the female part". "I just never grew up and thought, 'I want to be like you". "It wouldn't be so dramatic if I wasn't gone for seven years. I can see Indy on the way out the way I saw it on the way in, hopefully".
Patrick said she is grateful that she can end her career at the famous racetrack where she made her first big splash as a driver, and that she will be driving a vehicle - owned by Ed Carpenter, who sits on the pole for the race - that is fast enough to win.
"She's done a great job getting up to speed, not making mistakes".
"Even this morning was the same thing; we went through that exercise, and the auto was OK in the beginning, it was OK in the middle, and at the end the temperature started to get hotter and it was a completely different vehicle, and we hadn't done anything".
No matter the outcome, Patrick will continue to fuel her competitive spirit as an entrepreneur.
That's also what makes Patrick nervous. To the heartbreak of her fans, she was collected by a multi-car wreck and didn't finish. "But I never said never because I know better. I mean, the female part had to do with the amount, because it was a unique scenario being a girl in racing", Patrick said. It's not easy for me after. The ESPYs, right? Things like that. "It's uncomfortable, but I like to be in that place". "At least just making them comfortable enough to be able to manage".
She had to blaze her own trail, if you will - something Patrick said she's been doing since even before she started driving. She doesn't know what's next, per se.
"I never thought I would do (the Indy 500 again), I really didn't", Patrick said while announcing her final races.
Maybe spend a few more summer days kicking back in the Wisconsin grass.
It took some time to make her decision. It's like, 'Things are pretty good.' Now it's not just a hope, it's more of a reality. I'm OK with less of that. "It's a little bit different than what I was doing. I'm ready for that".
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