Danica Patrick wept.
She told herself she wouldn’t but as she sat in the media center at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Friday and announced her retirement as a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver, the tears flowed freely.
“My sister said I wasn’t supposed to get emotional,” said Patrick, driver of the No. Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. “I said I wouldn’t. But I’m grateful for all the opportunities.”
Patrick went on to say that she will compete in two races next season, the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, the latter being a race that she said several times she’d never enter again.
But things change.
One of the big things that changed for Patrick was that SHR didn’t have a sponsor for her in 2018 and beyond, so she’s being replaced by Aric Almirola, who brings Smithfield Foods sponsorship with him.
This coming after Nature’s Bakery bailed on its sponsorship of Patrick before the 2017 season even began.
In racing, money talks and the lack of money means sometimes that otherwise capable drivers walk. Just ask 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth or Greg Biffle, both former stars, or Kurt Busch, the 2004 champ who still doesn’t have a deal with SHR for 2018.
In this, Patrick is not alone.
“I just think that sometimes in your life … I’m not feeling like I was pushed into this … I feel like I should be doing this,” said Patrick. “I feel like this is where my life should be headed.
“And sometimes we just get kind of nudged there,” she said. “Sometimes it’s big nudges and sometimes it’s little. But I definitely I was faced with situations at the beginning of the year that I had never faced before. I had never had sponsor issues. It made me think about things and so I’m excited about the next phase.”
As far as that next phase goes, yes, there’s Daytona and Indy to consider.
Longer term, Patrick has demonstrated her savvy as a businessperson and has built a whole cottage industry around being Danica: She has her own clothing line, her own brand of wines, a physical fitness book and has said several times she wants to have a child with boyfriend and fellow racer Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Patrick will continue to do quite well for herself off the track.
On the track, she leaves a complicated legacy that fans will continue to debate.
The good is that Patrick became the first competitive contemporary female racer, brought tons of attention to the sport and inspired millions of young girls to emulate her. Those are all things she can be proud of and be respected for.
The on-track results — just seven t0p 10s in 189 starts — did not come close to matching her popularity, but the numbers are what they are.
Asked how she wanted to be remembered, Patrick said, “What I’ve always wanted is to just be remembered as a great driver, then remembered as a girl. I don’t care if your remember me as a girl. Of course I am. It’s obvious. But to be remembered as a great driver. That’s it.”