Danica Patrick says this will be last full-time season as a driver
HOMESTEAD, Florida — In an emotional press conference where she struggled to keep from crying, Danica Patrick said this will be her final full-time season as a driver.
After uttering that phrase, Patrick repeatedly stopped to wipe her eyes and cry.
“But I’m not totally done,’' she said Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a press conference that included her family, sister and boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse in attendance. “I’m going to do the Daytona 500 next year and the Indy 500. I’m really excited about that. I think it’s going to be a great way to cap it off.’’
Patrick did not announce the teams that she’ll drive for in both races next year.
“We’re down the line with difference facets in moving forward, but nothing is final yet but hopefully it will be soon,’' she said of the teams.
Patrick announced Sept. 12 that she was out at Stewart-Haas Racing after this season. Patrick, 35, didn’t have sponsorship and the team will replace her with Aric Almirola next season. Patrick, who is 27th in the points entering Sunday’s seasone finale, has been with Stewart-Haas Racing since 2013. No female has run as many races as her in NASCAR’s history. Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be Patrick’s 190th career Cup start.
“She is a very talented race car driver,’’ car owner Tony Stewart said on the NBC Monday Morning Donuts podcast Sept. 20. “She has the ability to do what probably 95 percent of the drivers in the field don’t have the ability to do. She can stay in NASCAR if she wants. She can go back to IndyCar. She can go sports car racing. She’s very versatile. I want her to do what she’s passionate about and what feels good to her.’’
Daytona International Speedway has been the site of some of Patrick’s top career NASCAR highlights.
Patrick made her NASCAR debut in the 2010 Xfinity race at Daytona. Her first career Cup start came in the 2012 Daytona 500. She won her lone Cup pole in 2013 for the Daytona 500. She finished eighth in that race, her best finish in that event.
Patrick drove in the Indianapolis 500 from 2005-11. She finished a career-high fourth in 2005 and placed in the top 10 in six of her seven starts in that race.
“I never thought I would do it (again),’' Patrick said of the Indianapolis 500. “I really didn’t. I always thought in my head never, but I never said never because I know better and thank God because here I am. It was really a conversation with my agent Alan (Zucker) ... we ran through so many different ideas, different teams, different scenarios, just do these races, just do this race. I have been much more in the flow with it. I have not poked or prodded and asked many questions. I wanted this to unfold naturally and what was going to be was going to be.
“As I said to many of you years ago, if it’s not going to get better I don’t want to do it because it’s not fun. Here I am. It’s not fun. My urgency to push to keep doing everything was just not really there. So if something that wasn’t really enticing didn’t come up, I wasn’t going to push for something else.
“He called and just said ‘What about finishing up at Daytona? I don’t know where it came from but then out of my mouth came, ‘What about Indy?’ I don’t even know why I said it necessarily. It was really sort of the first idea that got me really excited. That was it.
“It just came from my heart. I think it’s going to be awesome.’'
Although Patrick has not competed in IndyCar since 2011, there are signs that with the right team she could do well in next year’s race.
Formula One driver Fernando Alonso started fifth and led 27 laps before a mechanical issue sidelined him in this year’s race, the first time he had driven in that series. Kurt Busch placed sixth in 2014 when he competed in the race for the first time. Both Alonso and Busch won Rookie of the Year.
Even so, Patrick admits there will be challenges.
“I think it will take a little bit of adjusting,’' she said. “It’s different for sure, but I don’t feel that today I’m a worse driver than I was when I drove IndyCars. I’m essentially a better driver. It will take a little bit of acclimating. We’ll cross that bridge once we get a little bit closer. I would like to get in a car before Indy.
“I definitely have like a level of fear and nervousness about it, just a little bit, because it’s been so long, but I believe I will catch on and remember quickly.’'