Senior staff writer
Don’t ask Danica Patrick if she’s excited about competing in her final Daytona 500 Sunday.
It’s the one question she’s already tired of answering, but she will have the same dilemma when returning to the Indianapolis 500 for the “Danica Double.”
“There is really no good answer,” said Patrick in front of the media Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. “It’s too simple of a question and not deep enough.”
Patrick, 35, will line up in the No. 7 GoDaddy/Premium Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL 1 for her final NASCAR Cup race Sunday at 2 p.m. (Fox). The team, formerly owned by Tommy Baldwin, finished eighth in last year’s Daytona 500 with driver Michael Waltrip. Patrick had hoped for a ride with a top-level team, but that never materialized.
The Daytona 500 marks her 191st Cup start since 2012. She earned the 2013 Daytona 500 pole and her career best finish was sixth at Atlanta in 2014. She set records for longevity, starts, poles and top 10s for female drivers in NASCAR competition.
In May she plans to race with GoDaddy in her final Indianapolis 500, but she has not lined up a team. The frontrunner appears to be Ed Carpenter Racing with Dreyer Reinbold Racing, co-owned by Greenwood auto dealership owner Dennis Reinbold.
“It’s just going to be like riding a bike (again) going 240,” Patrick said of her anticipated return to Indy. “I think it will take a little time adjusting. It’s different for sure. I don’t feel like today I’m a worse driver than I was when I drove Indy cars. Hopefully I’m a little better.”
Her legacy at the Indianapolis 500, where she electrified the crowd in 2005, also is historic among women drivers: Best finish, third in 2005; best start, fourth in 2005; laps completed, 1,337; laps led, 29; most races running at finish, six; career winnings, $2.6 million.
However, her immediate focus is Daytona, where she has avoided the emotions of her last race there.
She admitted she was more emotional before her last race at Miami-Homestead and said, “I knew it wasn’t the last one, but just with the announcement, there was so much loaded emotion in that weekend. … But when I think Sunday comes, I’m sure I’ll be a lot more retrospective or introspective and emotional about the finality of it and you know; just have a little bit more perspective.”
She leaves a legacy for aspiring girls who aspire to become race car drivers. Her best advice to those hopefuls is similar for all aspiring drivers, male or female.
“You have to get a team behind you, but to believe in you,” Patrick said. “And maybe it’s a little harder because women have not proved themselves as much as men, but every driver has to prove themselves to their team.”
Patrick qualified 28th Sunday at 191.160 mph, 47.081 seconds; Alex Bowman was fastest at 195.644, 46.002 seconds. She races Thursday in the Can-Am Duels qualifying race at 7 p.m. on FS1.
“I haven’t made very many laps, but I feel pretty comfortable,” Patrick said after qualifying. “I was super comfortable in the car right off the bat and I have my old seat and I have all of my old stuff, so it’s nice to fit right in. We started off, we were not super fast, and we are continually getting better and we are going to continue to do that as the week goes on and we can work on things.”
On the same day as her pre-qualifying press conference at Daytona, the next “Danica” may have surfaced. Wisconsin’s Natalie Decker earned pole position for the ARCA-sanctioned 200-mile race and finished fifth Sunday in a Venturini Motorsports Toyota Camry. Decker’s teammate, Leilani Munter, was eighth.
“Danica has done such a good job of paving the way for all girl drivers,” Decker said. “There are a lot of them coming up … and they're all fast.”
Away from the racetrack, her brand will continue to expand. She has a new fitness book, “Pretty Intense,” an exercise program; a line of fitness clothing, Warrior by Danica, available on HSN.com, and recently founded Somnium wine in California.
Danica, a one-name brand, has positive vibes about the Daytona 500 and the next chapter for her.
(Note: Interviews made available through NASCAR, Chevrolet Performance and Venurini Motorsports.)