GIF: ESPN

When Danica Patrick lost her Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ride at the end of the 2017 season, she said sheā€™d compete twice more, in two of Americaā€™s biggest racing events, before retiring from the top levels of the sport in 2018ā€”the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. Both of those attempts ended in a wreck.

The Indy 500 wreck means Patrick will finish 30th, which is, according to NBC Sportsā€™ Nate Ryan, her worst finish in the race. Racing Reference lists most of her eight starts in the race as top-10 finishes, and she finished third in 2009.

Patrick hasnā€™t raced in IndyCar since 2011, but qualified seventh in a field of 33 for the Indianapolis 500 in her return this year. She dropped back to 12th or so around the start, and hung in the teens during a rather calm first half of the race before spinning in the second corner of the track on lap 68.

In a television interview after the race, Patrick, dejected, said she wasnā€™t really sure what happenedā€”that the car just came around. She called 500 ā€œreally disappointingā€ for what she and her team were hoping for, and for what she wanted from her last race.

Advertisement

The wreck that took Patrick out of her final race looked a lot different from the wreck that took her out of her final Daytona 500, since she just got collected in a pileup typical of NASCARā€™s restrictor-plate races there. Patrick spun by herself and didnā€™t hit any other cars at Indianapolis, since high temperatures and a new aerodynamics package in IndyCar spread the field out single file from early on.

The end of Patrickā€™s racing career is, as cheesy as it sounds, the end of an era in motorsports. Patrick made it to the top levels of American motorsports in both open-wheel racing and in stock cars, and as a driver, she was a visible, popular reminder that professional motorsports isnā€™t just a manā€™s sport. Patrick was that in IndyCar from 2005 to 2011, and in NASCAR from 2010 until this year.

Thatā€™s a long time to, in a way, be looked at as a benchmark for women in the sportā€”to the point that people lazily and regularly call women in racing ā€œthe next Danica Patrick.ā€

Advertisement

When Patrick retired from NASCAR after the Daytona 500, the top-level Cup Series returned to an all-male field of drivers. With Pippa Mann missing the field for this yearā€™s Indy 500, Patrick was the only woman in the race Sunday.

There are a lot of women in racing, working each day to make their presence more normal and to make the sport less of a manā€™s world. But Patrick took that role to superstardom, and without her actively racing, itā€™s hard to tell when another woman will become a household name in the sport.

And while the results of Patrickā€™s last two races were disappointing for her, her career as a wholeā€”and what it did for women wanting to pursue the sportā€”certainly wasnā€™t.