The last time Danica Patrick was at a racetrack, she was weeping.
It was Homestead-Miami Speedway last November, and Patrick was announcing her retirement from racing. Despite her best efforts to move through the press conference without her emotions overflowing, she started crying in the first minute.
This week, she’s back in Florida and back in a stock car – and for the final time. Are the emotions boiling again? Not so much, she said Saturday as Daytona International Speedway opened for Daytona 500 practice.
The Homestead race, Patrick said, represented her end of the road as far as the grand passion of the moment.
“I know that (last year’s season finale) wasn’t the last one, but just with the announcement there was so much loaded emotion in that weekend that to me that had a lot of a feel for kind of the end on some level,” she said.
“But 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.”
Patrick plans to race in next Sunday’s 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, Fox) and in the Indianapolis 500 in May as the closing events of her racing career.
“I’m excited about it all,” she said. “I made the decision last year that this is what I was good with. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been doing it. So I’ve had a lot of time to mentally transition. And that transition started last year. So, I’m good. I’m ready.”
Patrick will be driving the No.7 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports in what is scheduled to be her final NASCAR race. She is working with crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who teamed with Patrick when she was introduced to NASCAR racing in the Xfinity Series in 2010.
“I really hope that I finish and that I’m hopefully in contention,” she said. “That’s really my hope for the Daytona 500. There’s no such thing as a runaway here. So you just hope that you’re in contention.”
Patrick has made six Daytona 500 starts, finishing a career-best eighth in 2013. She started on the pole that year, becoming the first (and still only) woman to top qualifying for NASCAR’s biggest race. But she’s also stuggled in the season opener, crashing out in three of the last four 500s.
The 35-year-old has made 190 career starts in NASCAR’s premier series, earning seven top 10 finishes. She recorded a career-high sixth-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2014 and scored her lone top 10 of 2017 at Dover International Speedway last June. The No. 1 qualifying spot at Daytona in 2013 remains her lone career pole in the Cup Series.