HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Danica Patrick climbed out of her burning, smoke-filled, wrecked race car and trudged toward pit road.
She pulled off her gloves and helmet in frustration before being taken to the infield care center.
It was a much earlier exit than Patrick wanted in her final NASCAR race as a full-time driver.
“There’s still racing in my future,” she said. “I still have a thousand miles to go.”
Indeed, the “Danica Double” awaits.
But the thought of future endeavors did little to improve another disappointing day.
Patrick finished 37th in her final race with Stewart-Haas Racing. She bowed her head outside the care center before answering questions about her season finale and her future.
“It just seemed like every time things were going better, something would happen – my fault or sometimes not my fault,” she said. “This was just another case of that. It was fun for a little while there at the end. It was absolute misery for the first stint.”
Patrick started the weekend by announcing she plans to retire from full-time racing, holding an emotional news conference that began with a tearful goodbye.
The season finale prompted more of the same.
“It was a little bit emotional, but I’ve been working through levels of that,” she said. “I was just kind of looking forward to getting in the car finally, actually.”
She will be back behind the wheel in February for the Daytona 500, the final race of her NASCAR career. She also will return to IndyCar next May and drive in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in seven years.
Asked if there’s a silver lining in being able to return for the Daytona 500, Patrick paused several seconds before mustering an answer.
“Yeah, sure,” she finally said. “Let’s hope I don’t end up in the medical center.”
The 35-year-old Patrick is the only woman to lead laps in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. She ran the Indy 500 from 2005 through 2011. Her highest finish was third in 2009, and she was the first woman to lead laps there when she paced the field for 19 trips around the Brickyard as a rookie.
Patrick was highly marketable early in her career even though wins were rare. She won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2013, but finished 24th in the standings the last two seasons. She won her only IndyCar race in 2008, in Japan. Patrick never scored a top-five finish in NASCAR and had only seven top 10s in 189 career starts.
Patrick has not revealed which team she will drive for in 2018, but surely a package deal with the same owner and same sponsor for the biggest races in motorsports would make her again racing’s most marketable driver.
“I have a higher chance of crashing at Daytona than I do here, so I don’t know if I feel like, `Well, that’s my shot,“’ she said. “I have one left and then another one after, which is the Indianapolis 500.”
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