Danica Patrick expects that it will take some time for her to readjust to open-wheelers when she returns to the Indy 500 next year.
Patrick made 115 IndyCar starts including seven Indy 500 appearances before moving across to NASCAR full-time at the end of the 2011 season (pictured). On the eve of her final start as a full-timer at Homestead this weekend she announced plans to enter next year’s Daytona 500 before potentially closing out her career with a final appearance at Indy. While excited by the prospect of returning to an open-wheeler after a six-year break, she admitted that she’s also approaching it with no small amount of trepidation.
“I’m like, it’s just going to be like riding a bike – going 240mph,” she joked. “It’ll be no problem. Speed wobbles and all.
“I think it will take a little bit of adjusting. It’s different for sure, but I don’t feel like today I’m a worse driver than I was when I drove IndyCars – I essentially am a better driver. So, it’ll take a little bit of acclimating. But I think we’ll cross that bridge once we get a little bit closer. Luckily there’s a fair amount of time before that. I would like to get in a car before I get to Indy.
“I even wondered, do I have to do Rookie Orientation again? Think I have to do a day or something. That’s one extra day, at least. I definitely have a level of fear and nervousness about it just because it’s been so long, but I believe I will catch on and remember quickly.”
Patrick had frequently downplayed talk of a possible return to IndyCar in the past, and said that her change of heart boiled down to little more than a sense that the time is right.
“I never thought I would do it,” she admitted. “I really didn’t. I always thought in my head never, but I never said never because I know better, and thank God, because here I am.
“It was really a conversation with my agent, Alan [Miller]. We ran through so many different ideas, different teams, different scenarios, just do these races, just do this race … and I have been much more in flow with it. I have not poked and prodded and asked many questions; I have wanted all this to unfold naturally, and what was going to be was going to be.
“I’ve said in the past, if [NASCAR’s] not going to get better, I don’t want to do it because it’s not fun. Here I am. It’s not fun. So, my urgency to push to keep doing everything was just not really there.
“So, [Miller] called and said, ‘What about finishing up at Daytona?’ and I don’t know where it came from, but then out of my mouth came, ‘What about Indy?’ I don’t even know why I said it, necessarily, but it was really the first idea that got me really excited. That was it. … I’m still surprised. So that was kind of how it came about. It came from my heart, and I think it’s going to be awesome.”
The question of which team she will race for next May is unresolved. “We’re down the line of different facets of moving forward, but nothing’s final yet,” she said. “Hopefully it will be soon. But things are definitely not set.”
However one team it will not be is Andretti Autosport, with which she closed out her full-time IndyCar career.
“Danica is not on our radar,” a team spokesperson told RACER. “Our cars for Indy are full.”
Patrick first broke into IndyCar with the Rahal-Letterman team in 2005 but, when asked whether she might fit into the 2018 Indy 500 plans of the team now known as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, owner Bobby Rahal – who has son Graham and reigning Indy champ Takuma Sato under contract for next year – replied: “I’m focused on running two good drivers in two good cars to win the Indy 500.”
However, Rahal added, “Now, she was pretty damn good at places like Indy and I think if she gets with a good team she can still be competitive.”