It will be this weekend that Danica Patrick begins the first part of the close of her career, as she prepares for her final Daytona 500. Dubbed the Danica Double, she wants to end her career by competing in America’s two biggest racing events, The Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500.
Sponsored by GoDaddy, she will be wheeling the #7 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet in practice and qualifying this weekend for NASCAR’s Great American Race. She has yet to secure a seat for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 in May, though many rumors have her linked to the Chevy Powered Dreyer and Reinbold team. Though she hasn’t been in an Indycar since that horrible October day at Las Vegas in 2011 when the racing world lost Dan Wheldon, she will no doubt be competitive at Indianapolis.
Danica took the normal route of becoming a race car driver by starting out in karting at age 10. By the mid 90’s, she was three-time division winner in the World Karting Association Grand National Championship. When she was 16, she talked her parents into letting her move to England on her own; she began competing in the British Formula Vauxhall Championship, as well as Formula Ford. By 2002, Bobby Rahal ran her in the Barber Dodge Pro Series after being impressed with her upon seeing her in the Formula Ford Festival held at Brands Hatch in 2000. Danica would move up to the Toyota Atlantic Series in 2003 & 2004 where she finished sixth and third in the series points respectively.
Moving up to the Indycars in 2005, she would cement her legacy as she came within a bobble in turn one of sitting on the pole for the Indianapolis 500. During the race, she led 19 laps becoming the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500. She finished fourth & earned Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors making Danica Patrick a household name. The media became enamored with her, leading drivers like Wheldon to wear shirts stating that he “actually” was the winner of the Indianapolis 500. She would finish her rookie campaign with three poles and a 12th place finish in points. After finishing ninth in points, but with no poles or victories in 2006, Danica moved to the Andretti Autosport Team. From 2007 to 2011, she never finished out of the top ten in points, and she also scored her first win in 2008 besting Helio Castroneves in the Indy 300 at the Twin Ring Motegi. She became the first woman to win a major open wheel racing event. Her stats at Indianapolis alone are very impressive. She started outside the top 10 only twice in her seven-race career, with her best start of fourth in 2005. Her best finish was third in 2009. She had two top fives, and four top tens. Her only low finish was in 2008, when she was involved in a pit accident with Ryan Briscoe that relegated her to a 22nd place finish.
During this time, she had hinted a move to NASCAR. She began running some ARCA & Nationwide Series races for JR Motorsports in 2010 & 2011. Her full move to NASCAR in 2012 started with a limited Monster Energy Cup schedule with Stewart/Haas Racing & a full Nationwide Series schedule with JR Motorsports. Her best finish in Cup that year was a 17th at Phoenix. She did finish 10th in the Nationwide Series points with four top 10 finishes. She would move up to the Monster Energy Cup Series full time in 2013 with Stewart/Haas Racing. She earned her first pole position that year in the series biggest race, the Daytona 500. She would go on to finish eighth in the race. Danica struggled most of her Cup career. She led some races, but a sixth-place finish in the summer race at Atlanta in 2014 would be her best result. Her best finish in the points was 24th on two different occasions in 2015 & 2016. She gained criticism throughout her career because of the media & her popularity with fans. Former NASCAR driver Kyle Petty called her a “marketing machine”, and his father, King Richard Petty, had some unpleasant things to say about her as well.
Regardless of how you feel about Danica Patrick, she has been a pioneer for women drivers, and a role model for young girls all over the country. She beat the best Indycar drivers, ran up front with the big names of NASCAR, and now will be closing this chapter of her life on her own terms. She could very well win the Indianapolis 500 this year. What would her critics say about that?