NASCAR’s Danica Patrick will retire from racing next year after giving the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 one last shot, reports the Associated Press. Patrick recently lost her NASCAR Cup seat at Stewart-Haas Racing to Aric Almirola for the 2018 season.
Patrick broke down in tears when she made the announcement ahead of this weekend’s season-ending race at Homestead-Miami. It took her several months to accept that her career was essentially over after months of failing to line up sponsorship for next year. However, she couldn’t shake the idea of ending it back at one of the races that catapulted her to fame: the Indianapolis 500. Patrick told the Associated Press:
Nothing that was being presented excited me, then about three weeks ago, I just blurted out, “What about Indy?” Let’s end it with the Indy 500. This ignites something in me. But I am done after May. Everyone needs to put their mind there. My plan is to be at Indy, and then I’m done.
Patrick even came up with a name for her last two races as a pro driver: “The Danica Double.”
Patrick would not reveal who she planned to drive with for these races, however, the Associated Press notes that Chip Ganassi Racing may offer her a drive at Indy, and she will not be returning to drive with Stewart-Haas for Daytona.
While Patrick never won a top-level championship in IndyCar or NASCAR, she became one of the most visible women in racing and a role model to girls everywhere who suddenly saw that they, too, can fit into the racing world.
Before moving to NASCAR, Patrick was the most successful woman to compete in American open-wheel racing and the only woman to ever win an IndyCar race. She’s also the only woman to have ever led laps in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500—19 of those laps were as a rookie in IndyCar. Her performance there won her the 2005 Rookie of the Year award for both the Indianapolis 500 as well as the full IndyCar season.
While Patrick had previously said she was through with running the Indianapolis 500, she told the AP that she changed her mind once she realized she had fewer options for drives:
I know I always said I’d never go back to Indy, and I was always being honest. Well, things change. I know now you can never say never. I’d been going through this in my head and kept asking myself, “How am I going to get the words out and say it’s over?” And trust me, I lost my (stuff) a few times over that.
But this seems right, and this seems good.
Stewart-Haas team owner Tony Stewart was happy for Patrick, but was disappointed she was retiring from all racing even though she’d been dropped from his team, telling the AP:
I am happy that she is doing it on her terms, but I am sad because I feel like there are wins under her belt that she can still get. I thought she’d go road racing or back to IndyCar or something along those lines, because I think that’s where she can be successful.
Stewart also credits Patrick for helping him expand the Stewart-Haas Racing team to four cars. Patrick was an easy sell for years to sponsors as racing’s most visible woman driver.
Patrick plans to focus on her other ventures after her retirement from driving, which include a winery, a fitness program and an athletic wear line.