Danica Patrick, NASCAR’s most successful female driver, is calling it quits on full-time racing. The 35-year-old, who spent five full seasons in NASCAR’s top circuit, said in an emotional news conference Friday that certain “nudges” led her to this decision, including sponsorship issues experienced earlier this year.
“I definitely faced situations at the beginning of the year that I’ve never faced before,” she said, referring to Nature Bakery’s termination of her sponsorship in January, which left her career with Stewart-Haas Racing on shaky ground.
“It made me think about things,” Patrick added as she fought back tears at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where NASCAR is holding its Cup Series championship final on Sunday.
While Patrick won’t be on the track every weekend going forward, she’s said she’s not going to fully retire until next year following the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, both of which said she was “really excited about.”
That Patrick will return even briefly to the Indy circuit comes as a surprise, as she has long vowed she would not consider it. Talking to the Associated Press on Friday, however, the Wisconsin native said the idea came to her three weeks ago.
“I just blurted out, ‘What about Indy? Let’s end [my racing career] with the Indy 500,’ ” she said. “This ignites something in me. But I am done after May. Everyone needs to put their mind there. My plan is to be at Indy, and then I’m done.”
Patrick shot to fame first on the IndyCar circuit before transitioning to NASCAR, where she set a number of records, including most top ten finishes by a woman in the Cup Series with seven. Some of Patrick’s biggest achievements came on the Indy circuit, where she was named the 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and the circuit’s most popular driver from 2005 until 2010.
In total, Patrick has more than 365 races under her belt in all competitions, including 14 Top 10 finishes, seven podium finishes and five pole-position wins.
One achievement Patrick has few of, though, are race wins. Patrick, who finished 24th overall — her best finish ever — last year in NASCAR’s top circuit, has won just one race in her career, the 2008 Indy Japan 300.
This relative lack of success, especially in NASCAR, is what many believe damaged Patrick’s sponsorship appeal over the years, and eventually led Stewart-Haas to replace her with Aric Almirola for the 2018 circuit.
Patrick could possibly still join another team, although it would be a surprise turn of events at this point. In September, Patrick said she would only consider sticking around if her sponsorship woes disappeared, but they have not.
“I don’t want to be remembered for the things that didn’t go as well,” she told the AP. “I want to be remembered for the things that went well.”