Danica Patrick said Friday that the 2017 season would be her final season as a full-time driver. But she’s not stepping away from racing entirely at the moment. She’ll drive in the two biggest races in American motorsports before her career is over.
“I’m not totally done,” Patrick said. “I’m going to do the Daytona 500 next year and the Indy 500 … I think it’s going to be a great way to cap it off.”
Patrick didn’t reveal which teams she would drive for in 2018 but “nothing’s final yet.” She started her press conference by saying 2017 was her final season driving full-time and immediately broke into tears.
“I’m really excited, I actually have really something exciting to tell you,” Patrick said as she wiped away tears.
The AP reported her likely Indianapolis 500 team will be Chip Ganassi Racing. Her Daytona 500 ride will be with a team that doesn’t field four full-time cars. Cup Series rules prevent a team that fields four cars from fielding a fifth, even on a part-time basis. That rules out Patrick driving for her current team, Stewart-Haas Racing, or Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing.
While Patrick said she never says never, she added that “after Indy, it’s the end.” She also admitted that she didn’t expect she’d drive in the Indianapolis 500 again. Her last 500 was in 2011 and she’s finished in the top 10 in six of her seven attempts.
“I never thought I would do it. I really didn’t,” Patrick said. “I always thought in my head never but I never say never because I know better and thank God, right?”
Patrick, 35, steps away from full-time competition after five full-time seasons in the Cup Series. Through 189 races she has seven top 10 finishes. Her best finish came in 2014 at Atlanta when she finished sixth. Since finishing 24th in the points standings in each of the last two seasons, Patrick is 27th before Sunday’s final race of the season.
Patrick’s final season with Stewart-Haas Racing got off to a rocky start in January when the team became entangled in a dispute with her sponsor. The dispute was settled, but the team was forced to scramble to find sponsorship for Patrick’s car to cover the season.
A report emerged over the summer that her contract had been amended to end after the 2017 season and Patrick announced in September that she would be leaving the only team she’s ever driven for in the Cup Series.
Patrick has previously said that she didn’t want to continue driving if it wasn’t fun. And given her struggles and tendency to get caught up in hard crashes over the last few years, it was easy to see how racing had become not-so-fun for Patrick.
She came to NASCAR after driving seven years in the IndyCar Series. Her third-place finish in the 2009 Indianapolis 500 is the best finish for a woman in the history of the storied race. Patrick’s only major-series race win came in the IndyCar Series when she won in 2008 at Motegi in Japan. It was the first victory by a woman in an IndyCar race.
While other women had raced in NASCAR’s top three series and in IndyCar before Patrick, her presence in big-time auto racing has been a boon for the sports and, at the least, is well-timed with NASCAR’s initiatives to push for more female participants.
Her (full-time) departure from the sport continues the string of prominent racers who have left NASCAR over the past three seasons. Patrick goes out on Sunday with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth. After Jeff Gordon retired following the 2015 season, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart stopped racing in 2016.
Gordon, Junior and Patrick were NASCAR’s three most-recognizable drivers outside of the sport. After Sunday, they’ll be done as full-time drivers. That’s a massive void for a NASCAR that’s constantly searching for mainstream attention.
Gordon and Junior are doing television in their post-driving careers. Patrick isn’t immediately jumping into the TV waters. She has her own clothing brand, a wine label and also has a cookbook with her name on it. She’s well set up for a post-racing entrepreneurial life and NASCAR and its fans may miss the non-racing world attention she brought to the sport more than they realize once she’s gone.
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