Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Dressed simply in blue jeans and a black polo shirt with a GoDaddy-green sponsor patch, Danica Patrick addressed the assembled NASCAR media Friday morning – one of the last times she will do so as a professional race car driver.
The last time she formally took questions at the November season-finale in Homestead, Fla., she was at times visibly emotional about this important decision in her career. On Saturday, however, Patrick, 35, was businesslike and frank in addressing her final NASCAR start.
“There was so much loaded emotion in that [Homestead] weekend, that to me had a lot of a feel for kind of the end on some level, of racing in the Cup Series,” Patrick said.
“I say I’ll be fine and I’m excited and I mean like, okay, everybody in the room, imagine when you leave here on Sunday, you don’t have anything to do really for a couple of months. Seems pretty exciting, doesn’t it? Right? That’s how I feel.
“But I think when next 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. But right now, I’m fine. I’m good. I’m excited about it all. I made the decision last year that this is what I was good with. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been doing it.”
Patrick will make her final NASCAR start driving the No. 7 GoDaddy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Premium Motorsports in next week’s Daytona 500. The deal with the team was announced Jan. 22 – days after her former, longtime sponsor GoDaddy had announced it would be supporting Patrick in her Daytona farewell.
The news that Patrick would stop racing after such a decorated, celebrated and successful career was emotional for her, stunning to her fans and important in the sport.
Patrick is the answer to a multitude of historical racing statistics.
She is the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 – 19 laps en route to a fourth-place finish in her 2005 debut – and answered that with the highest ever finish for a woman – third place in 2009.
The year before, she earned huge headlines and hero status to girls around the globe with a victory in the 2008 IndyCar Series’ race at Motegi, Japan.
She will make her final racing start in May, in this year’s Indianapolis 500 but first, there is a lot of expectation for her last NASCAR start here in Daytona Beach.
Patrick started the 2013 Daytona 500 from the pole position –the first woman in history to do that – and properly punctuated the milestone with an eighth-place finish, also best ever for a woman in this race.
All the success and historic moments Patrick has earned have encouraged other young women and girls to consider auto racing as a career option. But just as she has always maintained, providing inspiration is a positive offshoot, but still isn’t and never was her primary motivation. She just loves to race, to contend, to win.
In nearly every press conference she participates there are questions about how she has inspired others, what advice she may give a young woman who wished to race.
“I think that if there is one difference, I feel it is that you have to get a team behind you, to believe in you 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 said.
“There is still that responsibility and that challenge is still at hand for every single driver to find a group that believes in them and gives them what they need and puts them in the right scenario. Perhaps it’s a little bit harder for me, just based on history, but I’ve had great opportunities as a driver. Sometimes I think it’s been better than others, but that could probably be said for every single driver out there.”
She has lived and prevailed in this ultimate racing dichotomy.
Should women feel extra pressure to succeed?
“Only if they feel like they do, I mean I really believe that,” Patrick said. “I’ve never felt like that. I don’t. My own banner is bigger than any other banner for what I want to accomplish for myself and then the trickle-down effect is what it is. But, no one expects more than me.”
That expectation here at Daytona is high and qualified.
She ran 31st in Saturday’s opening practice – turning eight laps. The focus at this time is getting her car faster, earning a decent starting position in Sunday’s pole qualifying and Thursday’s Duel 150-mile qualifying races and then preparing for the sport’s greatest race, her last race.
“I’ve had a lot of time to mentally transition, and that transition started last year,” Patrick said. “So, I’m good. I’m ready. But, we just have to keep my dad away from me, to be honest. He’s always the emotional one that’s going to be like all choked-up and tearing with sunglasses and crunching on his water bottle and he’s going to be like, ‘just have fun out there!’
“And, I’m going to be like, ‘gosh keep it together because I have to.’ So, I’m sure my whole family will, but I know my dad.”
And when it’s all done next Sunday afternoon?
“Well, I really hope that I finish and that I’m hopefully in contention,” Patrick said. “That’s really my hope for the Daytona 500.”